Why librarians are needed more than ever in the 21st century

In a 2010 interview with The Book Page, Neil Gaiman neatly set out the case for libraries and librarians in the 21st century; the remarks are even more relevant today, as libraries fight for a fair deal from publisher for ebooks, and with austerity-maddened local governments for their very survival.

Over the last decade, which is less than a blink of an eye in the history of the human race, it’s all changed. And we’ve gone from a world in which there is too little information, in which information is scarce, to a world in which there is too much information, and most of it is untrue or irrelevant. You know, the world of the Internet is the world of information that is not actually so. It’s a world of information that just isn’t actually true, or if it is true, it’s not what you needed, or it doesn’t actually apply like that, or whatever. And you suddenly move into a world in which librarians fulfill this completely different function.

We’ve gone from looking at a desert, in which a librarian had to walk into the desert for you and come back with a lump of gold, to a forest, to this huge jungle in which what you want is one apple. And at that point, the librarian can walk into the jungle and come back with the apple. So I think from that point of view, the time of librarians, and the time of libraries—they definitely haven’t gone anywhere.

Neil Gaiman talks about his love of libraries (via Neil Gaiman)

Notable Replies

  1. Unfortunately with less public funding and more private funding with strings attached and more goverment control over libraries in the USA.

    You'd get a book about Christ riding a dinosaur if you asked for something about pre-history.

  2. bkad says:

    I didn't use the services of a librarian very much growing up or through my education so I did not appreciate their future until one of my friends started taking library science courses. Now I mostly agree with Mr. Gaiman. Though I am cynical as to whether libraries themselves will exist in any meaningful form or that non-privileged people will have access to them.

  3. As an English teacher, I've taken five or six classes to their start-of-year library induction,and the children have sat staring at the ceiling while the librarian explains how important library research skills and how they should never use Wikipedia.

    The kids know it's bullshit - millions of people use Wikipedia every day to get a quick overview of whatever topic they're interested in, and much of the time it's enough. And they are used to searching for information far more quickly and elegantly than the library catalogue allows.

    What worries me is that those children have very poor research skills as a result. For example, if you set them a task of researching "What did people eat in Roman times?", they would universally Google "What did people eat in Roman times?" or "Roman food." A lot of them would struggle with finding a book that was generally about Ancient Rome, or the history of food, and finding information themselves.

  4. librarians perform none of these essential tasks. They tend to be over-worked, spend most of their time concentrating on the administrative requirements of book lending and re-stacking, and really have little interest in "content" questions from library users.

    The only librarian I know socially spends all her work time (in a public library in the UK) helping people to investigate their family history. She doesn't have anything to do with the lending collection at all.

    I guess those who do the lending and shelf-stacking are the most visible, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're representative of the majority of librarians...

  5. Nice job in disparaging someone else's profession in an attempt to boost editors. In fact, as a librarian, I spend very little of my time "book lending and re-stacking" and quite a lot on evaluating and comparing content, and helping library users to do the same.

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