Working Together

"We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again..."

Excerpt from "Working Together" © David Whyte
in The House of Belonging

Many Rivers Press

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Library is Dead

But over all things brooding slept The quiet sense of something lost.
Author: Lord Alfred Tennyson
Source: In Memoriam (pt. LXXVIII, st. 2)
This news will probably not be news to many but, perhaps because I am enmeshed in the situation, I really did not "get" a reality of my work environment that has been encroaching for some time. The library is dead. In the last decade libraries have gone through tremendous changes. I am not talking about that. I am saying that the library is dead. It is no longer useful. A library is a service to a community - in my case a University community primarily- and the situation is beyond resuscitation. The library is dead. It is considered for the most part wasted valuable university real estate.

When our soon-to-retire president of the university made the announcement that the library was a "black hole we pour funding into" I took offense. I don't like her so it was easy to ignore her but I forgot to look beyond my dislike to find any possible truth in her statement. I'm now coming around to understanding the bigger picture and it comes down to simple change. However, change is never simple when it is happening to the ground under your feet.

At work there has been a tension and I've been so busy I hadn't really noticed the brooding clouds on the horizon. Of course, technology and easy access to information for the masses has rendered the library obsolete. Any of us who have grown up in the wonder of the formidable stacks of any Carnegie Library across the United States will feel a pinch of melancholy over such a loss. As well, anyone who made a career as a librarian or who intends to enter the field probably needs medication at this point. Current trends suggest more clerks and data slaves, less librarians and technicians. This pretty much reduces the library to a Special Collections showcase. How many times have you needed to go to your local historical museum in the last decade?

I am reminded of the scriber in the novel, "A Soldier of the Great War" by Mark Helprin. The man made his living writing things down and he was completely disenfranchised by the advent of the typewriter. It happened almost overnight and the man went mad. The vivid telling of that part of the story always stuck in my mind, perhaps because I've now lived long enough to appreciate the fallout from these changes that civilization and evolution take into stride. I feel sad and stunned about all of this still. I need time to adjust to the loss and figure out how to help my co-workers and myself through this shift.

I had a dream last night that I was reclining on a huge sofa having a quiet, pleasant chat with a friend who is a computer programmer. We were laughing and talking quietly. A book lay open face-down, draped over my knee. I felt at peace. When I woke, I knew: The library is dead.


Jim said...

Outstanding writing ... and notification of something I hadn't thought about...

Rez Dog said...

Excellent, Cile. You do a fine job reporting from the front line of technological change. I love the access to information available on-line but I am glad learned to research in a library. On-line is good for quick information but when I want to think and learn, I still prefer a book.