Libraries and Museums in a Hands-On Age

Article excerpt

The very word "museum" makes some people, even library professionals, screw up their faces in distaste. They have bought the argument that "museum" means a boring, irrelevant, musty thing of the past, and the only good ones are "hands-on" places full of screaming children pawing every exhibit.

As we have noted in these pages before, the same is true of the word "library." An ALA member once told me with certainty during an ALA conference that American Libraries ought to replace the "Libraries" in its name. "American Information?" I asked. But she wasn't sure what the replacement word should be, only that "Libraries" was a thing of the past and had to go.

Proud past

This shame over "library" and "librarians" has baffled me ever since I entered the field. As professions go, librarians have precious little to be ashamed of. And libraries are things of the past, in as much as they preserve the record of all that has happened or been imagined in this world.

So now we have this new Institute of Museum and Library Services (see p. 13), through which the federal government will administer the new Library Services and Technology Act, which replaces the venerable Library Services and Construction Act in 1998.

Creation of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (where there once was the Institute of Museum Services) takes libraries out of the Department of Education - a move few ALA activists seem to be lamenting, especially those who have served on the Committee on Legislation and fought hard against being neglected, omitted, and otherwise ignored.

But it's the semantics that intrigue me about this move and about the new emphasis on technology over construction. Are libraries no longer a part of education? Certainly they are. Are libraries now to be perceived more as museums than schools? Certainly they are more like museums than they are like the pervasive "information industry" that has fostered our technological advancements. …