Librarian worries

I know it is not fashionable to worry these days. I should look to the future, see the opportunities, don´t worry, be happy, etc. But I DO worry.

Instead of the top tech trends that ALA and LITA does, I am going to name my top worries for public libraries.

1. Irrelevancy. A lot of libraries are great, they connect to their communities and do innovative stuff with technology and services. BUT a larger number of libraries does not! I worry that the network that libraries are will wither and die, and then the great and remarkable libraries will be few, and possibly dissapear because the concept of the library will become irrelevant to most communities. It will probably happen faster here in Europe, especially here in Norway, where years of low funding and neglect has taken its toll on both libraries and librarians.

2. Technological bypass. As technology develops the services that libraries provide are provided better by others. If e-books take off and there is an e-book reader that really makes e-book reading as pleasurable as p-book reading today, will libraries be part of that solution? I doubt it, especially when we look at the Kindle vs. libraries discussion going on in the US today. And it is not only books and reading, but reference (never a great selling point where norwegian libraries are concerned), outreach, literacy and “the third place” that we use as selling points for libraries, that others do better than us. If this trend continues, where does that leave libraries?

3. Identity crisis. When librarians in Norway discuss libraries, few, if any, take one step back and look at libraries from the outside. Most librarians subscribe to the philosophical school of “Libraries R´Us” and stop there. There is a great effort to protect libraries as reservations for the preservation of librarians more than a service to the community. This change of mission, from service to the preservation of the institution is probably common in many types of organisations, but it worries me that libraries have become the reason for librarians and vice versa.

4. Whining librarians, YES I am aware that I am rapidly heading in that direction, but so what? Librarians in norway complain a lot! They tend to look at anything new as a threat to the stability of their world (and they are probably right), and I should just shut up since I am one of the people threatening that stabilty, and at the same time wining about the threats I see.

Time to put on Monty Python!

I'm a norwegian librarian.

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3 comments on “Librarian worries
  1. Alex says:

    Trust me, mate, your worries are not uniquely Norwegian. I’ve interacted with librarians throughout the world for many years, and what you’re describing (especially the change to preservation of the profession rather than strengthening the service aspect, and the technological backwater they are in) is a global library thing.

    Your no. 1 is the most important one right now, I think. I suspect most smaller libraries will die (not for lack of trying, but from lack of funding and relevance to the community at large), but national and larger bodies will still be around, if not only because the law of most countries demand them as archives. Maybe this is a lead into your point 3, but I think you need to add to it that most libraries will turn into rather static archives of “old stuff”, only significant to researches who haven’t heard that their material is scanned and available online.

    As to point 4, I was there. And now I’m far, far away, doing something else. I kinda gave up when the library world itself didn’t understand the importance of strong self scrutiny and fought the question of relevance off rather than address it with conviction.

    The thing that was the biggest strength of libraries through the centuries, the quiet diligent conviction and of playing nice in the political corridors have turned out to be their biggest weakness when they needed it the most; now you need strong leaders with strong convictions and strong ideas.

  2. Quilt as charged on all 3 points; how many paper book museum buildings, after the big digitalisation project is realised, does one (country/culture) need? How many (online) services for helping out with cultural backlists? Yes, the lack of necessity for the physical and material production, packaging, storage and distribution of books (but also, music, video and film) will have a fundamental impact on libraries as it will have, and already has, on for example, physical publishing houses and bookstores. The analogy between horses and cars on one side and paper books and digital media on the other is not too far reached if you’d ask me. There are still a lot of people that love horses for all the good reasons.

  3. Aaron B. says:


    I sometimes worry about the demise of the library, but just have faith in what you do as a librarian. Also, remember to market the library to the public so that they remember to use it!

    Don’t give up and your customers will always remember to go to the library. Let them see that the library is where they want to go to learn about something or read something new.

    Even to chat and discuss books, etc.

    Please, contact me. I’m studying an MLIS degree to be a librarian, so I’m interested in the advice of librarians already working.

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August 2009
The Librarian

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