The biggest issue with equating the library with a Netflix for books is that it sends a false message that libraries are worth little more than $8 or $12 or $20 a month. That the services offered in libraries are little more than options to which people can subscribe, rather than actual services anyone can utilize at any time.

When the library is made to be seen as a business, rather than the heart of a community or a fundamental service made possible through citizen-approved tax dollars, it makes the library expendable. That expendability then moves down the chain: staff salaries get cut, then staff withers, then more programs and projects that benefit the community — books and movies and CDs and magazines and newspapers and wifi and computer access and database subscriptions and programs for all shapes, colors, and sizes of people — disappear, too. It detracts from the unique aspects that make a library what it is: a place for all, rather than a place for some.

Libraries reach out where Netflix reaches in.

The End of the Library

MG Siegler asks if it is “that crazy a notion” to wonder if libraries will continue to exist in the future. He goes on to state that librarians are “not allowed to answer that.” But isn’t this like wondering if TechCrunch will exist in the future, and then disallowing TechCrunch columnists from answering that?

I would argue that, as a librarian, it is not only my professional duty but my moral imperative to evaluate the efficacy and strategy of the library as it currently exists, and to make my best suggestions for how it should improve and change in the future. And believe me, it should improve and change.

Siegler goes on to talk about the economics of e-books, which is a valuable discussion, but diminishes the role of the library in a community to a book repository, a stereotype we’ve encountered many times over. People who can spend their income on books, computers, and smartphones often make the mistake of stereotyping the library in this way, but others less affluent cannot afford to make the same mistake.

I link it here not because it is a particularly thought-provoking read but it is important for librarians to understand how some people stereotype libraries and speak about this stereotype as if it is fact, and then “disallow” us from weighing in on the conversation because of our own bias. What about your bias, tech columnists?