John Palfrey’s lucid, passionate account of the state of American libraries reminds us both how important public libraries are to a healthy democracy and how close they are to going the way of the dodo bird.
We are in the midst of a tectonic societal shift from print to digital and without a concerted effort to transform the library into its 21st century equivalent we just might lose these hubs of democracy for good.
The disconnect is huge; survey after survey remind us how important libraries are to their communities while in budget after budget funding for libraries continues to get slashed.
We are off-course. As the below graphic shows us, and by no means is Sonoma County in the minority, our priorities are out of whack. I don’t want to do one more story related to a public school library that is underfunded, understaffed or closed. We are playing russian roulette with our kids and our future. It is insane.
In BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google Palfrey gives us a handy guide for how to begin to right the ship.
Remember, the library spectrum is wide. From the neighborhood branch of your city library to the special collections of the closest university to your local historical society. From providing unfettered access to information to preserving both our country’s source material as well as its detritus the library is on the front lines of a healthy democratic society.
Palfrey leans digital but he clearly understands the staying power of the analog in the library universe and that any conception of a ‘library’ in the near future needs to include printed material. One cannot deny; however, that analog has lost its monopoly as information provider and adjustments need to be made.
Much of the current digital output is falling through the cracks. Without immediate attention to the preservation and archiving of our digital data we risk losing a chunk of the historical record of these amazing times.
There is much to be done. Librarians need to be retrained, libraries need to learn how to play together better, tons of material needs to be digitized (and an equal amount of material that is holed up in special collections and archives across this land still needs to be processed in the first place!).
Palfrey makes it clear that new models are needed for the library to survive in the near term and blossom in the future. We need to get creative and we need to get political, fast.
The money has to come from somewhere.
Yes, partnerships with appropriate private companies should be encouraged and there are plenty of denizens of the 1% that understand the value and necessity of libraries and can give generously but a “public option” is mandatory and all of us who believe in the power of the library must dig in our heels and fight not only for their survival but for their transformation. As Palfrey reminds us libraries are “some of the last physical, public spaces that are not devoted to commercial pursuits.”
For libraries, the future is now. We cannot afford to lose them.