Obligatory Post on Neil Gaiman and the Importance of Libraries

“In the last few years, we’ve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That’s about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.” – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is right – I see the effects of this “information glut” every day when people ask me reference questions. Of course they know they can find ten thousand recipes for tiramisu online, but they know they can find a good one at the library.

This is a brilliant article, and I’m so grateful for talented writers like Gaiman who champion for libraries, but I think he missed one huge benefit of libraries: socialization and community building. So often people choose to have the librarian reserve them a computer rather than do it easily at the self-reservation station. It’s undoubtedly because they want to chat. They need computer time yes, I talk to people on a regular basis who don’t have computers at home, but they also need a human connection. They want to share an opinion with someone who cares; they want validation.

Same with those tiramisu hunters. They could’ve stayed at home and navigated the internet for a few minutes. But instead they drove to the library, they asked a living breathing human an interesting question, they spent a few minutes browsing and exploring, they told me all about their tiramisu plans, and they left feeling warm and fuzzy inside. I think libraries, as much as anything, are vital social access points. For patrons to meet patrons, and for patrons to meet librarians. I’m learning that the role of the librarian can range from fulfilling highly academic requests to very basic human needs. And that’s part of why I love it so much.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Public libraries should be the place where anyone can go and expect to be treated respectfully, thoughtfully, and intelligently. Public libraries might be the only place where that kind of equality is even possible anymore.

Meta edit. Neil Gaiman agrees:

What do you think about the role of the public library? Let me know in the comments.

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