Rants, School Libraries

Think before you write

Yes, this is about that Forbes article, the one about libraries and Amazon.  I’m not linking there  (YALSA has a version if you must read it), but there is great analysis over on Wonkette and Quartz among others. Quartz also mentions that Forbes actually took the article down, because “…This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

Perhaps you’re now asking what was this contributor’s specific area of expertise?  He’s Chair of the Economics Department at LIU’s CW Post campus and an author (contrary to one twitter rant, he’s not a libertarian, although his co-author appears to be one).  And this is where my heart sank: LIU is also the home of the Palmer School of Library and Information Science.  If you go over to my cv, you’ll see that I got my MLS there in 1996.  While most of my classes were held in their outpost at NYU’s Bobst Library, I did take three classes on the Post campus.  In their library.

So not only is the author outside his area of expertise, he’s insulting colleagues who are working to train new librarians.  In an attempt to change the narrative when “library twitter” started to react (spoiler alert: we weren’t pleased), the following was added:

To be fair, library surveys do not seem to confirm the idea that public libraries don’t have the value they used to. A Pew Research Center survey finds that Millennials are the most likely generations to use public libraries. Though it isn’t clear whether “public libraries” are community libraries or school libraries.

Let’s ignore the fact that he’s trusting Pew (statistical accuracy is questionable) and focus on the fact that, despite working at the same institution that trains librarians, he clearly doesn’t understand the difference between a “school” library and a “community” library (what most of us call a public library).  Millennials are, according to Pew,  “[a]nyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22 to 37 in 2018)” or, in the author’s professional life, those in graduate school and older.  In other words, not in K-12 education as a student.  And while there are some school/public library combinations, the vast majority of school libraries are not open to the random public member (I’ve had to stress this to several people over the past year, including the gentleman looking for tax forms, something the public library virtually around the corner does provide).  A simple email to someone at Palmer, or a stroll across campus, would have clarified things for him.

While I agree with Justin the Librarian’s Hot Take Opinion Fatigue, this really got my aging goat.  Waaaaay back in 1995, when I was starting my MLS degree, I had to take one of those general Intro to Librarianship classes.  One of the difficulties of this type of class is making it applicable to everyone, because while there were some who knew which specialty they wanted to pursue, some of us did and if you were interested in law librarianship, why did you care about academic or public library issues? The was a fall class, and the final for this class was a take home essay in which we were asked to think into the near future where we were seeing family and friends during the holidays and, when we told them about our studies, they would respond, “but with the [seriously limited, back then] internet and databases, why libraries?”  What would our answer be?

At first I was tempted to mimic what a high school classmate did for her philosophy research paper.  She studied silence as a means of communication and turned in a cover sheet and full bibliography* that surrounded nine blank pages (reader, she got what would have been an A had the class not been pass/fail).  My idea was to do the same, only on my inside pages type WHY NOT? in incredibly large font, one letter per page.  I didn’t, but oh was it tempting!

That ignorant opinion pieces like this get written (especially by someone who works where I got my degree!) this many years later really, as Lanford Wilson wrote, gripes my ass.


  • I know she cited John Cage‘s 4’33”: I don’t remember if Sounds of Silence was also on the list.

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