Kniffel, Leonard, American Libraries
Read and Learn, Two Words That Still Say It All
Over the last decade, themes and slogans seem to have emanated from ALA like popcorn out of a popper. Through it all, however, one message has remained constant. in fact, if we ever need to summarize the mission of libraries for this entire century and the next in a word or two, we can still do it. There is a core value embodied in words that can get lost in the debate over whether or not the paper book is doomed.
When we talk about compact discs versus vinyl or cassette, we never seem to lose sight of the fact that it is the music that matters. No amount of packaging, no amplification, no evolving format can make Mozart out of the Spice Girls.
In the same way, the word at the heart of every library is read. And librarians have to be more concerned about being able to distinguish good reading from worthless drivel, because what we read matters, even if it's a cookbook. No new format can turn a lousy book into a good one, or an inaccurate recipe into a successful souffle.
Many who embrace new technologies uncritically scoff at the defenders of books, condescendingly referring to the wood-pulp fetishism of bibliophiles. Its an interesting argument but ultimately not one that I'm inclined to get hopped up over. Although electronic books will no doubt have their applications, I have little interest in curling up with one, and even less in the notion that paper books are somehow deficient and need replacing. But the market will decide, just as it has for every new medium. What is of far greater concern is the pervasive climate of hyperbole and infotainment that diminishes the value of reading for so many in quick-and-easy American culture.
Fifty years ago, libraries passed through a much greater crisis and survived. There were people in those days predicting not only the demise of reading but also the demise of teachers, since television, as the great learning tool they thought it would be, needed only one teacher to reach millions of children simultaneously.
It seems more obvious today than ever that to utilize technology we must be able to read, and to be truly educated about any medium we must read about it. Technology has created a greater necessity for reading than ever before, never mind that too much of it is wasted on e-mail and ad copy rather than satisfying literature or clear and accurate instructions. …