Who Gets To Control The Future Of Libraries?

The following was my email response to a thread on the web4lib mail list:

Okay, it must be said: you’re all wrong[1].

I can understand that news of a librarian being fired/furloughed will raise our defenses, but that’s no excuse for giving up the considered and critical thinking that this occasion demands.

Consider this: the principle’s blog reveals a reasonable person actively trying to improve academic performance despite crushing economic conditions. The communications show a level of transparency many of us can only wish for.

Unfortunately, many on this mail list seem to have come to the conclusion that this library was a stellar, but unappreciated example of everything that libraries should be, capriciously closed by a principle who secretly wanted to see the football team shoving bookshelves around on a hot summer day.

Go ahead, mock the story (and so far we only have one story about this) for suggesting that the books have been “re-organized” by subject, but the fact remains that this community didn’t think their library was organized in a way that met its needs. This suggests that either (a) it wasn’t well organized, or (b) the librarian had failed to educate the users and develop the finding aids necessary to help the community use the library.

Nobody here is banning or burning books. Nobody is suggesting that libraries are irrelevant. Far from it: this story about the modernization of a library to make it a more significant part of students’ academic activity.

News that a member of our profession has been furloughed is sad. But, news that a principle is investing time, attention, and money in the library is good. News that those two stories are one in the same should make us ask critical questions about how we and our libraries are positioned to serve our community.

[1]: Everybody but Robert L. Balliot, whose message has so far been ignored.