Chatting with our Library Director the other day, and he hands me (a portion of) an article from American Libraries, titled “The Future is Up To You”, by Keith Doms. It was published in 1971. Aside from bad suits, bad hair, and an ardent denial that the American Library Association was on the verge of bankruptcy — it was, though Mr. Doms optimistically cites the organization’s “creative membership” as an asset — we get this provocative nugget:
“We must be realistic. Today’s kids, who incidentally will be tomorrow’s taxpayers, are multi-media oriented. In ten years the majority of young people will be comfortable with and very much skilled in the use of both print and nonprint media… The librarians of this nation must prepare themselves and their institutions to be as fully responsive to the expectations of the next generation as is possible (989).”
Excepting the anachronistic use of the term “nonprint media“, this might have come from any number of currently employed library personnel. And it’s not that the sentiment is false — it isn’t — it’s just mind-boggling to think that, even forty-years later, we as a profession are still fixated on the “book issue”. The “book issue”, briefly, is one of essentialization: it supposes that libraries are, and can only ever be, repositories for the storage and lending of print material. The truth of the matter, however, is that libraries have been profitably expanding their mission for quite some time. Patrons are happy, we produce a great ROI, and the Internet hasn’t been the sniper-shot some assumed it might be.
But libraries are, for better or worse, linked with the book. And no one is more threatened by that than the library profession itself. We have one of the most reductively inward-looking scholarship bases in all of academia; our trade journals are preoccupied with stereotype deflation; our conferences are often little more than extended exercises in book denialism. A healthy dose of format agnosticism probably solves all of this, but, sadly, that doesn’t seem forthcoming. Regardless, it’s heartening to see that even in the halcyon days of the 1970s, librarians were taking a proactive stance when it came to incorporating progressive technologies in their libraries. And so too will we at Schewe with our forthcoming Digital Learning Center — watch for it in Fall 2014!