On libraries at school

Some of my fondest memories at school are of libraries, of devouring whatever caught my eye from the stacks. It was a quiet haven from the rush of the outside.

Are libraries still relevant in the age of Google and Wikipedia?

For me, yes. I borrow dozens of books from the Toronto Public Library each week, browsing their online catalogue for books to request for delivery. There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than curled up with a stack of books.

It’s an amazing thing, to be able to borrow more books than you can buy, to take home more books than you can carry. I haven’t really taken advantage of reference librarians’ services, but that’s because I enjoy diving into books.

Libraries are the first taste many people have of freely learning from neatly structured knowledge, more interest-driven than textbooks, more comprehensive and more reliable than the chaos of the Web. In places without public libraries or where not everyone has broadband, school libraries are even more important.

It takes work and space and money to make a library. I have the greatest respect for librarians, who have to decide which books will be the best use of a limited budget, how to arrange the space in order to invite people in and encourage them to read, and all sorts of other things I take for granted when I read a book.

Librarians are awesome in other ways, too. They care a lot about privacy and freedom. They’ve thought about how to organize digital information and keep things accessible. Many of the Web 2.0 tools I’m excited about benefited from the thoughts and insights of librarians.

What would I like to see in libraries of the future? Social recommendations, like the way Amazon does it. I use libraries heavily, and I’d love to see recommendations of books based on things I’ve checked out in the past. Even someone who’s just starting out might get lured in by all the great books out there.

Other people have thought a lot about how libraries can stay relevant and show the value they provide. Me, I’m just a fan. =)

Thanks to dmcordell for the nudge to think about this!

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  • There are a lot of misconceptions and bad stereotypes about librarians – they’re just old fogies, or book nerds, or antisocial recluses. I’d imagine that probably contributes to a shortage of aspiring librarians and possibly a decline in respect for libraries in general.

    But as you point out, librarians are people who work with and think about information – the very fabric of this new ecosystem we’re busy building and lauding on the internet. Hardly irrelevant.

    • I would totally work for the library if I weren’t working for IBM (or I’d start a company, but that’s another great idea).

      The Toronto Public Library is particularly cool. =)

  • thanks, sacha! i’ll be sharing this with my other librarian friends =)

  • Thanks for sharing your love for libraries and good insight about librarians…we may not know everything but we know how to find it…it’s sad that we are stereotyped with the way some of us look, looks can be very deceiving…but how should we look in the first place? trying to have small chats with your librarian may change your perspective about our profession. keep up the good blog and have a nice day:)

  • I don’t know where that stereotype of librarians comes from. =) I don’t use it myself. If anything, I think librarians are pretty awesome people. (Books! Information! Whee!)

  • As a former librarian, I am continually amazed by the people you say, “YOU were a LIBRARIAN?!” As if librarians have some special look, personality, or demeanor. I consider one of my greatest privileges to have been a librarian and to have positively impacted young minds.

  • Libraries are for sure relevant today. The environment that is created by being in a library and searching for knowledge cannot be reproduced at home. It’s like going to a gym vs working out at home. You are much more likely to workout at the gym then at home because your surroundings support that activity. Same goes with libraries.

  • David

    It’s sad that we are stereotyped with the way some of us look, looks can be very deceiving.

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  • Hi! I’m a big fan of libraries, and of course, books. Libraries sure are my refuge to anything frustrating. Actually, I want to own a library! (I made National Bookstore a library, hehe. It’s a secret.)