By Elizabeth Wroten
On 12, Mar 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten
Well, it finally officially happened. I was at a party last weekend and someone said to me, “Do you really need a master’s degree to check out books?” He then proceeded to say that he thought libraries were on their way out and then ask me if I agreed.
In all honesty, I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before, but I was caught completely off guard. I rather lamely told him libraries do a lot more than books, but I wasn’t really sure how to respond. It didn’t help that we were in a social situation and I didn’t want to get all evangelist librarian on him and start some hour long lecture on what it is libraries (and librarians do) and how important they are. I also hate having this conversation because it often feels like you won’t convince these people who think we’re irrelevant.
The whole incident put me in mind of two things, though. First, that I need some kind of elevator speech, a brief, well-stated speech, that tells people what libraries are about (beyond books) and why they are important. Second, I wondered when did libraries become synonymous with pleasure reading?
As much as I hate having the conversation about the value of libraries (because I think it’s obvious and also think it’s very hard to quickly convince people who are decided against us), it’s obviously going to happen. And probably at awkward and inconvenient times. Like at a housewarming party. I would sound more convincing and probably more authoritative if I had a few thoughts prepared and always at the ready. Something less lame than, “well, we also do research and storytime.”
But the really irritating thing to me about the particular argument that this person shared, is that it sees libraries as places that merely check out pleasure reading to patrons. When did that attitude happen? Do only people who don’t go to the library think that? Have they never been to a college library or a school library? Even the public library, who does check out a lot of pleasure reading, obviously has more going on. I don’t have any good thoughts or answers on this, but I do find it incredibly baffling.
In the end I told him that yes, you do need a degree. That there are different kinds of librarians (such as law and school) who have a variety of responsibilities that require more in depth knowledge. I also pointed out that libraries provide access to people who maybe can’t buy all the books they read, have Internet access, and provide a community space. I also explained that people do a lot of research in libraries, especially college libraries, and that those librarians provide materials and research help. I don’t think my answer was bad, I just wish it had sounded less apologetic when it came out and that it had been more eloquent.