Librarianship has for some time been immersed in a conversation about relevance. What value do libraries embody in the age of the Amazoogles, cell phones with computational power rivaling early space vehicles, and home computers with a couple terabytes of storage?
Libraries have traditionally been a pull technology… you have to go to a physical place, find the item you want (generally known beforehand), and pull it off the shelf.
Increasingly we live in a push information world. TV pushes their take on the news at us, RSS feeds push the headline news and what has changed on the Internet… for places we’ve pre-selected, at least.
The following, from the DemocracyNow.org website, is a chilling commentary on what the corporate news industry is pushing to the American public:
TV Networks Focus on JonBenet Ramsey Case Over NSA Ruling
The major court ruling on the National Security Agency surveillance program has received scant coverage from the nation’s three major networks. On Thursday, ABC, CBS and NBC all led their nightly broadcasts with the latest in the 1996 murder case of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. ABC devoted twice as much time in its broadcast to Ramsey as it did to the NSA story. CBS offered seven times as much airtime to Ramsey as it did to the NSA story. And NBC devoted 15 times more airtime to Ramsey.
It is hard to know whether this is self-censorship on the part of Big-News, or simply venal sensationalism (or both), but it is discouraging, and accentuates the importance of independent sources of information in the future of democracy.
I’m not sure how libraries can effectively compete for the attention of television viewers, but as traditional sources of news become ever more co-opted by the infotainment industry, the role of providing a neutral spectrum of information is increasingly important. System vendors are making it easier for libraries to set up RSS feeds to alert patrons to newly acquired assets and community events, and many libraries use them. And Worldcat.org now provides web-access to records for 1.3 billion items in 10,000 libraries free of charge. It ain’t book-TV, but libraries at least have a beachhead where other sectors of the information industry have ceased to take their patrons seriously. The service model is changing (the role of disclosure becomes paramount: see Lorcan's notes on the Search, Share, and Subscribe, for example), but the mission is still pretty much the same, and needed more than ever.
Image: Lake Union houseboat, Seattle