Not a Dying Career Field

by Brad McNally, former Head Editor, INALJ Ohio
previously published 11/4/13

Not a Dying Career Field

brad.mcnallyLast week, I heard a question at work that will make many of the folks here on INALJ cringe:

“So, libraries, huh? What does it feel like to be in a dying career field?”

I don’t even know how to begin answering that. I almost made a snarky comment back, but instead I just thought about it. I often see writers discuss the end of the library as an institution, and a career field (such as The End of The Library by M.G. Siegler), but I think that many times people don’t particularly realize the things that make libraries so vital. I also don’t think that people generally know what librarians do, nor do they understand that not all librarians are in traditional “librarian” roles.

Beyond this, some writers claim they can’t remember the last time they used a public library. This may be true for some people, but it isn’t true of everyone. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I used the fire station, but that doesn’t make it less important to my community. Libraries (especially public ones) do something that very few other institutions can do: they equalize people. Libraries create resources for communities, not individuals. By doing this, the lowest income person can have the same access to information as the affluent individual. Regardless of income, social status, background, or any other issues – the library offers that person information. If they don’t know how to access it, there are professionals there to help. This is exactly why it isn’t a dying career field.

Yes, to some people the library is a big building with old books and free Wi-Fi. These people often have broadband Internet at home and can afford to buy books. They don’t consider that for many people, especially in the region in which I reside (rural south-eastern Ohio), Internet in your house could be considered a luxury. This isn’t just because of monetary reasons, but logistical. There are many people who cannot access broadband because of the location of their house and the infrastructure (or lack thereof) around it.

These articles (or comments, in this case) always inspire a knee-jerk response from me, and many others, at first. I suppose that the reason this type of claim is so bothersome to me is that I don’t feel that much related to libraries is in need of defending. Yes, it is a changing career field, but so are many others. How many adults now remember the use of a whiteboard in the classroom as students? That doesn’t mean that education is dying, but that it is changing. The same could be said of any library.

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