Shirley Burnham's Blog : 14th November 2011


A Specious Argument that Does the Library User a Disservice

Those who argue that the printed book and professionally-staffed community libraries are obsolete because the retrieval of information may be easily achieved from 'Google' are wrong.  Among these are MPs and ministers, local authority leaders and, surprisingly, even some members of the Library profession. These luminaries insist that modern humans will inevitably be the wiser by turning to a screen instead of a newspaper or the printed book. Anyone who argues otherwise may be described as a deluded, middle-class, whinging Luddite.

It is a given that the World Wide Web is a fantastic tool for creating and sharing ideas and information.   However, Philip Pullman, Alan Bennett, Tim Coates and tens of thousands of others who defend the physical library and physical book are not calling for a return to the 1950s or suggesting the Net must be switched off.   They are adamant, though, that any agument that its existence wipes out the need for physical books in physical libraries is a specious one.

Control Access and Control Me : If there were a data-loss apocolypse, few have considered that the absence physical books would mean no easy accesss to much that has been written.  A more imminent threat is the ability of corporate giants and totalitarian / 'nanny' states to control what the masses are permitted to read.  These threats are not science fiction whimsy;  they are real.

'Google' is not a library :  Faced with tens of thousands of soundbites, the surfer, be he child or adult, must make wholly intuitive decisions about the bias and accuracy of the data retrieved.  He is forced to trade conjecture for confirmed facts and soundbites for the rigorous research, scholarship and attribution found in physical books.    Without recourse to books in libraries -- because technophiles are removing these -- getting to the truth will become harder and harder.   The deleterious result for the next generation will show up in their struggles to read and write, even extending to 'knowledge illiteracy,' thus preventing them from making decisions that are based on more than gut-feelings.

310m books  are issued each year from public libraries;  and some 60 to 70 percent of the books that are being read today are obtained from a library.    Last month an Islington consultation found that "library users go to the branch nearest their home and mainly do so to borrow books".  Books are the priority for people visiting their local libraries and it is broadly acknowledged that many do not have the wherewithal to arm themselves with the latest electronic gizmo for downloading an e-book, even should they wish to.  Why, therefore, are central and local government officials, publishers and, alas, a good number of chief librarians, in denial of these facts ?