Stuck in the Dark Ages

It would appear that someone at The Independent is firmly stuck in the past.  A fellow member of staff brought my attention to an article in today’s Indie, and managed to irritate me beyond belief.  The article follows statements by Andy Burnham regarding the future of libraries.  The article is awash with dismay over the move to allow library users to eat, drink and, heaven forbid, actually talk.  Interestingly, they talk about the ‘silence rule’– a concept that is completely alien to either myself or just about any other person I have encountered who works in a public library.  There is also criticism of the fact that libraries have computers, principally because, apparently, nearly everyone has a PC with internet connection (although little comment is made about whether people can actually use this resource effectively).  There was even an odd little statement like this:

“The clientele is bound to consist mostly of “regulars”, if the library is open only two days a week between 10am and 4pm.”

I will be amazed if there were any town centre libraries that were only open between 10-4pm.  The norm, certainly in my authority, is 9-6pm and even, in some cases, 9-8pm.  And ‘two days a week’???  Where is this mythical library???  Perhaps someone at the Indie ought to visit one.

As well as the ill-informed nonsense from the ‘journalist’, there are the usual ignorant comments posted on the website.  Seriously, I am beginning to doubt whether this idea of putting comments under articles is actually a good idea.  It seems to be nothing more than an excuse to post the first thing that pops into their head.  If these people have their way, the public library would be nothing more than a physical manifestation of all that was bad about the 1950s.  Time moves on, society changes, customers needs change.  Libraries must, therefore, change.  It is essential for their survival.

Now, I am not saying that Burnham is spot-on with all he says about the future of libraries, and I am not saying that his critics have it all wrong.  However, one thing is for certain, things need to move forward.  There should not be enforced silence (we don’t and it certainly isn’t noisy, despite what the critics might assume), there should be an attempt to make the library a cool place to hang out (being able to buy a coffee and flick through the paper would be a very positive move), there should be computers with internet access (isn’t the internet the primary information source, and aren’t libraries the primary conduit for information retrieval?) and, above all, the library should be open and welcoming to everyone, regardless of who they are.  Elitism will kill the library service.  Eradicating the old-fashioned perception of libraries might just save it.

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8 thoughts on “Stuck in the Dark Ages

  1. Well said. The Independent seems to be very fond of these sort of articles, and as for some of the comments posted on their website, words fail me….anyone would think it was the Daily Mail rather than a supposedly liberal, free-thinking newspaper.

    Having worked in libraries for 25 years I have certainly never seen these mythical “Silence” notices on display. Why shouldn’t we provide computers for internet access? Judging by all the requests we get from our customers to hold IT taster sessions, we ARE providing a service that they can’t get elsewhere. Surely a 21st century library should provide a range of services for the whole spectrum of customers, and yes, some of these activities will be noisier, but also have quieter (but not silent) areas of the library for those wanting to study? What we should not do is pander to the whims of a narrow-minded sector of the community by banning babies, children, or anyone carrying a mobile phone or a bottle of water, as some of these reactionaries seem to be suggesting.

  2. Quite right! Disappointingly, my beloved Guardian has also joined in on the act:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/oct/10/andyburnham?commentpage=2&commentposted=1

    I thought I could rely on my trusty Guardian, looks like I was wrong. I guess one good thing has come out of this debate, at least it shows that a lot of people do care about the service – even if they are a little mis-guided.

    Down with silence! Up with discussion and the exchange of ideas in a library setting!

  3. For some reason some of the comments in the Guardian seemed to incense me more than anything, sending my blood pressure soaring and having me reach for my medication! However it looks as if you’ve set the poor misguided souls right about a few things.

    “Fools said I you do not know/Silence like a cancer grows”…as the old song puts it.

  4. Pingback: As if my headache wasn’t bad enough…. « Thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian

  5. You seem to be missing the point.

    Libraries are less popular now because of TV, video, cinema, computer games and the internet… NOT because they are old fashioned. In fact, the ONLY thing that libraries still have going for them is their (old-fashioned) serenity. You take that away and they cease to function as libraries, but as community centres with bookshelves. But we already have community centres, we already have coffee shops and we already have Internet Cafes.

    Rugby is less popular than football. Should we change the rules of rugby to make it more like football? Or is it better to have two different things?

  6. The same debate is being argued in academic libraries. We’ve had a lot of complainst at our library both from students who think it is too noisy and students who are fed up being told to keep the noise down when their tutors have advised them to come to the library for group work. As a small library, we are restricted in what we can offer in terms of keeping both groups happy, and at the moment it feels like we can please neither!
    The ‘noisy’ users definitely seem to be in the majority with us, so we’ve turned what used to be a staff room into a quiet room for postgraduate students with wireless Internet access. The room seems to be proving popular, but it’s early days yet. Sometimes I’m tempted to go and work in there myself!!

  7. I guess it must be tough in an academic library. In a public library, however, I think there should be rooms where silence (or quiet anyway) should be the norm and other areas where a civil conversation won’t result in a noisy tut from a librarian. A happy medium is, in my opinion, the key to a balanced library environment.

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