Why librarians are needed more than ever in the 21st century


Unfortunately with less public funding and more private funding with strings attached and more goverment control over libraries in the USA.

You’d get a book about Christ riding a dinosaur if you asked for something about pre-history.

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I didn’t use the services of a librarian very much growing up or through my education so I did not appreciate their future until one of my friends started taking library science courses. Now I mostly agree with Mr. Gaiman. Though I am cynical as to whether libraries themselves will exist in any meaningful form or that non-privileged people will have access to them.

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Nice idea, but somehow I think this article is confusing the role of the editor in media (be it scholarly journals, books, newspapers or magazines) with librarians. Since the advent of the Internet information revolution I’ve read very little in praise of editors, and of course in the news media these people seem to be the first sent down the road. Be that as it may, I think their work is crucial in sorting out what can be substantiated from what cannot, and almost as importantly, what clear writing, good grammar, and even proper spelling look like. I certainly know that good science, at any rate, can be just as much about the journal editors as it is about the people who initially compose the words.

On the other hand, librarians perform none of these essential tasks. They tend to be over-worked, spend most of their time concentrating on the administrative requirements of book lending and re-stacking, and really have little interest in “content” questions from library users. In the worst case they can end up being gate-keepers, restricting access to what they consider to be “valuable” out-of-print items of “historical interest”. They may know nothing about the subject, but they certainly know how to keep things under lock and key.

I wish librarians were different, but in my experience (both in public libraries and science research institutes) they’re unfortunately not. These days I can do quite well without librarians. It’s the editors I don’t want to disappear.

As an English teacher, I’ve taken five or six classes to their start-of-year library induction,and the children have sat staring at the ceiling while the librarian explains how important library research skills and how they should never use Wikipedia.

The kids know it’s bullshit - millions of people use Wikipedia every day to get a quick overview of whatever topic they’re interested in, and much of the time it’s enough. And they are used to searching for information far more quickly and elegantly than the library catalogue allows.

What worries me is that those children have very poor research skills as a result. For example, if you set them a task of researching “What did people eat in Roman times?”, they would universally Google “What did people eat in Roman times?” or “Roman food.” A lot of them would struggle with finding a book that was generally about Ancient Rome, or the history of food, and finding information themselves.


librarians perform none of these essential tasks. They tend to be over-worked, spend most of their time concentrating on the administrative requirements of book lending and re-stacking, and really have little interest in “content” questions from library users.

The only librarian I know socially spends all her work time (in a public library in the UK) helping people to investigate their family history. She doesn’t have anything to do with the lending collection at all.

I guess those who do the lending and shelf-stacking are the most visible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re representative of the majority of librarians…


Nice job in disparaging someone else’s profession in an attempt to boost editors. In fact, as a librarian, I spend very little of my time “book lending and re-stacking” and quite a lot on evaluating and comparing content, and helping library users to do the same.


In my twenty plus years of working in libraries I’ve come to believe there are basically two types of librarians, and I have two anecdotes that I think sum up the differences. The first is the time I apologized to a reference librarian for having so many questions, and she almost yelled, “Don’t apologize! It’s what we’re here for!” The second is the time I told a cataloger that, as a patron, I appreciated what he did, and he replied, “I don’t care.” This was someone who made “If I wanted to help people I wouldn’t have become a librarian” part of his email signature.

The fact that you think you’ve only encountered the latter type doesn’t mean that the former doesn’t exist, or that librarians are completely useless. If you can do without librarians, great, but don’t presume that the rest of us no longer need them.

Regarding rare, valuable, or even just standard out-of-print items, many university libraries try to hire people who have both training in information science and a background in another field that’s relevant to whatever part of the collection they oversee. But let me describe another two librarians, in this case library directors. One was a director who believed the internet was a tool that could be used to make rare, fragile, or valuable materials available to everyone while preserving the originals. For him at least part of the library’s role was making information available to the public. The other director believed the internet would make libraries obsolete. He predicted, in the mid-90’s, that in as little as ten years libraries would cease to exist. He slashed the budget for building repairs, and had to finally be forced to provide enough money to build a crappy wooden ramp that would make the library handicapped accessible. Even though he was a library director he firmly believed libraries were a money pit, even for colleges and universities, since every piece of information anyone could possibly need could be found on the internet for free. Although he also said that if people needed information they should be willing to pay for it. Rather than libraries he felt private corporations should be the gatekeepers and arbiters of information.

So, if you really think the latter director was right, then, yes, by all means, let’s get rid of librarians and libraries.

This is such a great point. It is exactly why I say learning how to find things – and even more importantly, verify the credibility of what you do find – is so essential to future citizens.

We live in an explosion of information. Which is much better than having just a dusty set of Encyclopedias on the shelf as your only perspective. But too much information from unknown sources is arguably more dangerous in a different way.

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I used to be a big proponent of libraries but that has changed over the past few years. I held on to the fight for libraries because it was pretty cool that I could check out movies and music CDs. I’ve never found libraries very useful for me. I read here that libraries evaluate and compare content for me. I don’t need, nor want, someone filtering content for me. As a student I was often going to used book stores because the library didn’t have what I needed. For pleasure, I was going to book stores because the library didn’t have the flavor of science fiction I preferred.

Yes, it’s sad that libraries, for nostalgic reasons, are not longer needed. They are hanging on my incorporating internet access, movies, pop music, etc. in their offerings but it’s a pitiful last breath. I’m sorry librarians. You’re becoming a dinosaur. My next door neighbor growing up was an adding machine salesman. He never made the when home PC’s starting to become popular. His job was defunct. Librarians need to realize this same thing is happening to them. Your brick and mortar 20th century model is failing in the 21st century.

What’s with all this google and wikipedia bashing about? It’s not that children are not learning how to properly research. Every generation says that about the youth these days. It’s that they are picking up on a new way to research and the older generation doesn’t understand it well enough to mentor and guide our young in incorporating these tools into 21st century research.

Oh yeah, I can’t forget one more thing about libraries. They are the new babysitter. If I walk into a library at noon today, I’ll see every computer taken by young kids that have been dumped off by their parents. Books are being ignored. Librarians are quietly evaluating and comparing content, I guess.

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