For many years I’ve subscribed to the Good Reading magazine, a publication which has itself evolved throughout the digital age. It is my bible for books of all genres and itself a commentary on the evolution of reading.
I was heartened to read an article in it which reviewed a book called ‘The Library Book’, a collection of 23 short pieces by “some of the world’s most intriguing writers and thinkers” including Stephen Fry, Lionel Shriver (author of We Need to talk about Kevin), and Seth Godin about “how much public libraries mean to them.
Seth Godin writes in defense of librarians and in understanding of the diversity of their role The librarian isn’t a clerk who happens to work at a library. A librarian is a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher. The librarian is the interface between the reams of data and the untrained but motivated user. I quite like the idea of being a sherpa – someone wise and contained within the knowledge of ages, quietly knowing the way and willing to show those who want to go, vital, engaging and brave enough to exist on the edge.
Godin acknowledges the wonder and beauty of the library in the pre-electronic media age which was all great, until now. As a warehouse for books the library is obsolete and he says Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the nerve centre for information (Please don’t say I’m anti-book!). He articulates the changing role of the librarian in encouraging a new kind of librarian: This librarian takes responsibility/ blame for any kid who manages to graduate from school without being a first-rate data shark. I accept your challenge!
As one of many heartfelt, funny and moving essays on behalf of the institution of libraries, Godin concludes, We need librarians more than we ever did. What we don’t need are more clerks who guard dead paper. Librarians are too important to be a dwindling voice in our culture. For the right librarian, this is the chance of a lifetime.
I agree, and I hope I’m up to the challenge!
Good Reading, June 2012