The Bookless Revolution?

So I guess that new bookless library that is going to open soon in San Antonio is causing a bit of a titter in the media – in and out of Libraryland. If you haven’t heard about it you can read a bit about it here on NPR’s website. The story has now run on NPR’s All Things Considered and also on APM’s Marketplace. I think my husband even told me he saw something about it on Gizmodo.

I thought, however, that the idea was interesting in light of two other blog posts I read on The Ubiquitous Librarian and on Censored Genius. Admittedly they aren’t exactly about the topic of ditching books, but they have ties to it. And they got me thinking about adding my two cents to the whole maelstrom.

I guess what irritates me about this whole debate is that it should be a non-argument because places like this new bookless library are really outliers on one end of a spectrum where most libraries fall somewhere in the middle. We should remember that library services are varied. We offer readers’ advisory and we offer computer classes. We offer study space and collaboration space. In the end I don’t think anyone, except for a very few outliers, are advocating that we drop everything in favor of buying the latest and greatest technology or that we abandon books altogether.

In some ways my irritation hearkens back to my thoughts on how librarians (or at least the slice of Libraryland I happen to follow) like to predict the next big thing in technology. That isn’t our job, though. And neither is going bookless when that isn’t a fit with your institution’s mission. I’m 100% for being innovative and looking ahead to provide services your patrons couldn’t even articulate a need for. But at the end of the day you need to take into account your community’s or institution’s culture. Know thyself.

In fact maybe this ties in with the blog post I read about on Hi Miss Julie about recognition and outrage at people getting lots of it for shiny new ideas that don’t really relate to the day to day literacy that goes on in libraries. I get irritated when people try to argue against the (imagined?) bookless revolution, too, by essentially saying that libraries are all about books and how can we even think about implementing technology? I understand that Miss Julie wasn’t really making that argument (in fact her point had nothing to do with the future of libraries debate at all) and that she is in a unique position as a children’s librarian. But we also need to recognize that we are living in a digital age. Even children will have some exposure to technology and need the skills to cope with a digital world. It doesn’t really matter if we personally like the idea of using screens and gadgets. They’re going to, and if that is what we need to encourage their literacy and build their information literacy skills, then that’s what we need to use. Especially if that’s what our institution’s or community’s culture demands.

I touched on this a bit in my piece about crossover from my parenting research. The thing about our patrons these days it that they are becoming as much creators of information and content as they are consumers of it. In Brian Mathews’ piece on The Ubiquitous Librarian he says:

At Virginia Tech we’re positioning ourselves to not only provide content, but to support content production. We think of this as not only about access to information, but also about enabling the creation of new knowledge. We’re evolving from a warehouse model toward a studio model.

And this is what we need to take into consideration when we add gadgets, books, and anything else to our library space and collections. This is how people interact with the world these days- through books, through the Internet, through Facebook, through crafting, through Tumblr, and through a million other content creators and aggregators.

I guess the crux of all this is that I believe libraries are more community hubs of learning, and always have been, than they are bastions of literature. Sure we offer books. But that isn’t the only way people learn and connect, now or in the past. Despite all the heated arguments for libraries being 100% books or 100% technology, no library really is. We all fall in the middle. With the exception of that one in San Antonio, of course.