Friday, 7 January 2011

We are all doomed!

I was reading a blog post the other day about the Amazon Kindle. I haven't actually got one and I don't know anyone who has, though I think I've seen someone using one. However, in the course of the comment thread on the future of books, I spotted the comment "Libraries are doomed"!

As an ex-librarian of some 40-odd years' experience I get the distinct impression that libraries have lost the plot nowadays. Books can be bought comparatively cheaply in supermarkets as well as online, and the traditional role of libraries as purveyors of information and homework answers has been eclipsed by the widespread availability of the Internet. Librarians have been renamed "customer service advisors"; libraries are now "one-stop shops" where you complain about your bin not being emptied; an army of IT and HR "support staff" is on hand to hinder any attempt to get on with the day-to-day job of serving the customers; and the whole show is presided over by a senior management directorate on telephone-number salaries with no practical experience of ever working in a library in their lives.

The old people (who demographically make up the majority of those who still actually borrow books) constantly bemoan the fact that they can never find anything decent to read on the shelves because the bookfund's been cut yet again. The young people lured in by free computer access constantly bemoan the fact that an hour isn't long enough to get their emails, chat to their mates and update their Facebook page before they get kicked off again. And all the while "initiatives" swallow up chunks of the budget, generating grandiose ideas for refurbishment projects but leaving little money for the basic essentials.

And maybe that's where the problem lies. Are we flogging a dead horse? In the 21st century, are libraries still "basic essentials" for anybody? Or are the remaining services that they provide ones which could be carried out better, more cheaply and more efficiently by other means? Doomed indeed!

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