If you belong to the library world and are in any way involved with social media (aka. if you’re reading this sentence), then you definitely heard about the disastrous Forbes article written by an Econ professor last week, that attempted to suggest Amazon should replace libraries.
Twitter’s librarians absolutely took him down—completely slaughtered him with thousands of comments outlining why he was wrong. Since then, I’ve seen dozens—hundreds, maybe—of blog posts, news articles, tweets, and other stories articulating how completely and utterly wrong he was, and how essential libraries are to their communities. Check out this article about the value of libraries beyond dollars, or this one arguing that the very idea is class warfare. Or, scroll through this recap of some of twitter’s best take-downs, as librarians of the internet thoroughly schooled this econ prof.
The original article, interestingly enough, has disappeared. Don’t mess with librarians, right?
There is no point in my writing an impassioned defence on libraries. That’s been done to death at this point, I think; the librarians of the internet have done an incredible job of defending our profession! Instead I want to reflect on my own experiences with libraries, and the impact they can have.
I started down the path to librarianship during my undergraduate degree, when I took a job running summer reading programs at the local small-town library. I spent my days planning and prepping crafts, reading stories, and decorating the library. Anyone who knows anything about public libraries or children’s literacy knows that summer reading challenges are incredibly important in preventing the summer backslide, using crafts, activities, storytimes, and movie screenings as encouragement to pick up a book, so honestly, every day I spent in my library I was making a difference. I didn’t really think about that at the time, though; I mostly just found the job really fun.
What was most rewarding about this position was actually something of a side-note, and one that, initially, I wasn’t terribly interested in. My most obvious and most time-consuming responsibility was the summer reading club, but the library also ran a literacy for kids program, where reluctant readers would visit the library weekly to practice their reading in a one-on-one session. Often, it would be the only time the kids read all week—these were incredibly reluctant readers! The sessions were fairly low-key; we’d read a couple of books, usually two for the child and two for me, then do an activity or play a literacy game. The kids got a treat at the end of the session (definitely the only reason a lot of them came!). It wasn’t as exciting as the SRC, but ultimately, it was more meaningful. We only saw these kids once or twice a week, but it was enough. Two books a week, and that summer, every single one of those kids maintained their reading skills. A few even went up a reading level, I was thrilled to learn once school resumed.
That was my first experience of the difference a library can make. Since then, the importance of libraries has been proven to me a thousand times over. I spent a winter teaching older adults tech skills, and over the course of three months several of my students went from “how do I turn it on?”, to sending emails and searching Google on their own. I spent a year working in an incredibly low-income neighbourhood, where the library was understaffed and underfunded and yet still managed to support newcomers and ESL students, to run homework clubs and summer reading, to teach computer skills, to offer career and resume services—to simply provide internet and books to the community, all completely free. Unlike my first library, this was a large urban system and I didn’t get to know the community in quite the same way, so I’ll never know exactly how I helped people, what impact their interaction with the library may have had on their life. All I really have are memories of a patron’s gratitude when I spent twenty minutes helping him restore his email account, the joy of the customer when I located a book they’d been searching for, and the look of relief on a mother’s face when I waived her overdue fines so her kids could take out books.
Libraries are important, and the work we do is important. No econ professor can take that away from us!
I would love to hear about your experiences with libraries, whether as staff or user. Please leave a comment and tell us your story!
Featured image by Didi Barrett.
Kait is an MLIS student at Western University in Ontario, a graduate assistant for her faculty’s library, and an avid traveller. Currently, she is trying to determine whether or not moving to Australia would be worth the risk of spiders. Connect with her on LinkedIn.