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Restore the noble purpose of libraries

Focusing so much on their technology actually dumbs them down.

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Libraries were once a sacred secular space of silence and reverence – a place where one automatically lowered one's voice. As a direct heir to the Enlightenment, the establishment of libraries was a testament to the self-evident integrity of mankind, the belief that we all desire to find the truth through knowledge.

Librarians once framed our mission in those terms – before libraries became the noisy computer labs they now are, with their jingle of ringtones, clattering keyboards, and unquenchable printers. And we reference librarians had a higher, more dignified calling than merely changing the printer paper.

In some libraries today it is actually impossible to find any place quiet enough to simply read and study undisturbed. What I call the postmodern library – the library plus technology – deconstructs itself.

Modern librarians who prioritize information over knowledge perpetuate a distraction from the real purpose of a library. A library facilitates the patient gathering of knowledge – whose acquisition is superior to almost every other endeavor. Religions have adapted to technology for the most part without being destroyed by it, so why can't libraries? It might not be too late.

Information on the Internet may come across as authoritative, but much of it is one giant Ponzi scheme, especially in the hands of the young, where it can become a counterfeit for the reading and memorization that true learning requires. Scholars are made through the quiet study of one chapter at a time. For that we need silence. We need to restore an appreciation for the close study of words.

Without that we are putting ourselves out of business. It should disturb us that fewer people are browsing the stacks, asking reference questions, or reading.


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