I’m so tired of the increasingly popular opinion that public libraries are becoming irrelevant in the technological age. Can I get an amen and a snap, fellow librarians?
I went to a swanky party a few years ago and the host asked me what I do for a living. When I told him I am a public librarian he sniffed, “People still use the library?” as if he were referring to a steaming pile of dog doo (and yes, sometimes urban public libraries do actually smell like canine excrement…or the subway at 4 AM! But let’s not get off topic here.). He made the usual comments: “Why don’t they just buy their books or look up information on Google?” How do you explain to someone that lives in a $4000 a month apartment in Tribeca why people still use their public library? To put it simply, most of the people I serve in the neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant cannot afford such luxuries like a home computer or Kindle.
Most days, they are wondering where their next meal is coming from. (Though to be fair, some rich folks use their library too. Look at this adorable photo of Jennifer Garner taking her daughter to the public library in L.A. Keep it real girlfriend!)
I wish I had invited the Tribeca Trustafarian to visit my library on a weekday at 3:30 PM and then hear him argue that public libraries are no longer relevant after seeing children doing their homework, a group of seniors learning to use a computer, or a young woman getting job-one-on-one help from our Job Information Resource Librarian, and dozens of others taking advantage of their library. The “People’s University”! It’s a beautiful sight!
Public librarians are more than seekers of information, we are champions of justice and equality in a world of have and have nots. Bridging the gap between the economic divide. We are a safe haven for children and teens who want to study or do arts & crafts projects with our wonderful children’s librarian. We offer a variety of services for people who want to improve their lives, from free GED, ESL and basic computer classes to learning how to apply online for jobs or write a killer cover letter. With the U.S. unemployment rate still hovering around 8%, this is one of the most important services we provide.
Sure, the world of public librarianship is rapidly changing. It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, saving the world one preschool story hour at a time. To put it bluntly: sometimes being an urban public librarian kinda sucks! Brooklyn Public Library (as with NYPL and QL) enacted a hiring freeze four years ago and it looks as though that won’t change anytime soon (I know recent grads, I really want to hire you too!). Our hours of service have increased while our staffing has drastically decreased, an environment ripe for burnout.
My colleagues and I keep rolling with the punches. We’ve survived a few rounds of budget cuts and layoff threats, but we keep trudging through, providing the best possible services to the people in our communities who need us. The blows keep coming but we aren’t going down without a fight!