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August 11, 2014


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Kate Stephenson

Reminds me of a guest on Room 101 who wanted to put eBooks and eReaders in the room. Frank Skinner refused, saying it's the content that counts not the format.

Lady Librarian

Couldn't have said it better myself, Phil! Thank you for this thoughtful response. The following quote hits the nail on the head: "I don't believe that it's the right, or indeed the responsibility of the librarian to make assumptions based on what they see people doing. I think that it's an arrogant and patronising librarian who says that socializing on Facebook is of little gravity."

Digital and traditional libraries each have their place. The most successful public libraries are a marriage of both. Why can't we all just get along?

Chris Torrero

I'm afraid this CILIP member is on Adam's side.

Call me old fashioned, but for straightforward reading, I prefer books. They are easier to navigate around (I find readers "clunky", especially those that try to emulate books with pages that "turn"). Unlike paper, Kindles have an appallingly low operating life and get "fried" by airport x rays.
The problem I now have is that as my reading tastes are somewhat esoteric, with the reduction in bookstock the library books I want to read are now in the skip. Where I live and where I used to work, the local libraries were "revamped". In both cases, this meant the introduction of lower shelving and a consequent drastic reduction in the bookstock. Worse, the old library shelves acted as a sound barrier, I now find that even if there was something I wanted to read in my local library, I can't hear myself think in there.
There's nothing wrong with electronic information sources. I work for a well known publisher of business information. Let's embrace new technologies, let's teach people how to use them (and how to assess the provenance of what they find!). But let's not throw away what we have.

John Kirriemuir

Yes, a thousand times. The grocer that sells only apples, even the finest quality apples, is soon a bankrupt grocer.

The extremists on both wings of the information access spectrum are just that; extreme, and selfish, and lacking in empathy. The "book sniffer" who only reads print, fetishes paper, and looks down with false superiority on those who use the library computers as being of a lesser, less intellectual and intelligent mind. The "techno bore" who parrots the lie that "everything is online", ignores the many millions with no IT skills or experience, and looks down on those who read print as feeble, old-fashioned and just old (as we all will be).

There's snobbery on both wings, and both weaken the standing of libraries and librarians with their intolerant, narrow and narrow-minded "I find information this way, therefore everyone else should" agenda.

This is particularly pertinent this week. Everyone has heard of the death of Robin Williams. Depression, mental illness and suicide are being debated and commented in varying degrees of enlightenment across print and digital media. Many on social media, in real life, are choosing this time to declare past and previous problems, battles in the mind. These are not rare, and easily remedied, conditions; these are common, but complex and individual conditions.

But where does a person who wants, or needs, quality information on these issues go? And go to, now? Friends and relatives often give worse than useless opinions, masked as advice. "Pull yourself together", "You'll get over it", You have a job; count yourself lucky", "Get a job", "Go and have a drink". Does this advice work? If not, where else does someone go to?

The A and E hospital department? Overwhelmed with people and frightening. The CAB? Again, busy and overwhelmed, and it doesn't solve but sends the person elsewhere. The police station? Frightened of being sectioned or detained. Your council's social services? Overstretched, underfunded, and the paradox of requiring a tenacity to navigate that is often missing in those who need it. Your GP? Again, you need the tenacity to get an appointment, wait, get seen too, maybe get mysterious medications, maybe get put on a mental health waiting list. With a heavy emphasis on waiting - and what do you do while you wait?

Which leads to: what if you need that information now? The thoughts going through your mind aren't good ones, and aren't abated by hearing "The earliest initial appointment is in three weeks". Or you find it difficult, as many with mental health issues do, to deal with people and agencies, in appointment or on the telephone? People who want, or need, reassuring privacy to absorb information in their own way and at their own pace. What options are left? Often, only two come to mind.

The pub? Alcohol is cheap, oblivion soon comes, and pubs are inviting; they want your money. Go in a few at opening times and find the many who chose, or had to choose, this easiest but non-solving and worsening of options. The cheap, chain bar became the default 21st century "Care in the Community".

The public library? Possibly. No IT skills? There can be useful books there, which outline what you have, and how to deal with it, in words you understand. Able to use the net? There's computers to get you to websites, some with up to date information, more information, and contact details. A library that provides both the analog and the digital maximizes the chances of providing essential and accessible information to those who really need it.

So long as there is the third component: the skilled and experienced librarian, who respects privacy and does not have a bias towards a particular media; who knows how to help and nudge people with complex needs in the right direction and into the appropriate media. Not the volunteer, well-meaning but lacking information and media skills, who may be judgmental, or not respect privacy, or not have the experience of encountering people with complex needs. But the true librarian, who can encounter an inarticulate, possibly frightened, probably emotional person, figure out what information they need, and help them to get it using the array of media in that same building. Who knows where an appropriate book is, or how to get it on loan; who knows how to get to an appropriate website.

True librarians, with their many information skills and experiences, can and do help, improve, and even save, lives. But they need, in their libraries, the diversity of information media - print, digital, book, online - to do so. The elitism and snobbery, the favoritism of a pet media to the exclusion of others, helps neither librarians, nor the patrons and members of the community and society, they serve.


To Chris Torrero, I also prefer physical books. However that is my preference and my preference alone that I cannot pushed onto anyone else. The argument is the assumption that many make, albeit presumptuously, that libraries no longer have value because of technology. The Bexar library proves otherwise. It is one library out of many in that community. This library shows how libraries can continue to stay relevant. Libraries should constantly show our worth to our communities and in some ways we have to adapt. We do not have to empty libraries of the physical book, but we can reach a middle ground, no?

Trevor Craig

It's good debate, and although I'm personally on the side of the paper book (e-books have no soul). I understand that some do prefer e-books. While I agree the paper book will disappear from the library eventually, its the mad rush without the evidence base saying its what users want or its not implemented in a way to attract users to the ebook that worries me. There is a big study going on but its the cart before the horse as normal. Firstly the kindle cannot be used in the UK for ebooks, amazon aren't allowing it. Secondly the choice is still very limited, which I suspect is the publishers dragging their heels. Thirdly, the integration between existing systems like galaxy to the overdrive system (as used in Oxon where I live) means the user experience is pretty rubbish to be honest, needing a login for the library and a login for overdrive. I know overtime these issues will probably be overcome but for the UK at least I think we don't need all 151 library authorities doing their own thing, the whole point of digital is that location is meaningless so why is there a need for 151 implementations of e-books? Finally, the way things are going in the UK a library will have no staff as they've been sacked and if we get rid of the paper books as well, its a stretch to still call that building with some computers in it a library :-(

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