Friday, December 16, 2016

Why Naomi Schaefer Riley Needs to Shut Up About Librarians

Last weekend, New York Post columnist Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote a piece entitled "Why quiet-loving librarians can’t shut up about politics." In it, Ms. Riley describes what it seen as a new role for librarians, that of a social justice warrior, or as some of my colleagues like to say, an "information freedom fighter." Ms. Riley points out an issue that recently came up in the American Library Association, the fight over the wording in statements released describing how we will help the new administration by "support[ing] efforts to abolish intolerance and cultural invisibility. However, even that wording wasn't enough to ease the worries that many librarians have over the incoming administration. The lady is certainly entitled to her opinion and I can understand the frustration Ms. Riley may have over what she considers to be knee-jerk reactions to our election and new administration. However, she made the fatal mistake of writing the last two paragraphs in her published essay. Here is what Ms. Riley wrote:
Now that we can buy cheap used books on Amazon, look at resources online through       Google Books or other databases and access periodicals in the comfort of our own home, the role of librarians has shrunk considerably and many seem adrift.
As one recently told The Wall Street Journal: “If I didn’t spend my time helping people look for lost keys, wallets, jackets, sweaters, gloves, backpacks, cellphones and laptops, I’m not sure I’d even have a job.” Maybe the culprit behind all of these silly press releases is obvious: too much free time.
That just deserves all of the scorn. Every little bit of it. First of all, if it wasn't for the library, I wouldn't even have access to the Wall Street Journal article Ms. Riley cites, since I don't have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. Google can't grant me access to it. Amazon can't either. Guess what? The Library does!

Here's another guess what for you - most people don't know how to access these resources that are freely available through their public library's website. Even if they did know that the library offered the Wall Street Journal for free online, they wouldn't know how to search for what they wanted. They don't understand filters, boolean searches, and keywords. That's where live human beings come into play, ones who have been educated and trained to answer these questions. I would direct Ms. Riley to a group of letters to the editor of the Wall Street Journal that was published on January 19, 2016, in response to the article that she cited. They directly contradict her cited article and were all written by degree holding professional librarians.

Ms. Riley would benefit greatly from actually shadowing a public librarian for a day. My typical day includes helping our patrons with questions they have on how to use the computer, print, fax, and copy. They call and come in with questions concerning how to borrow and download free eAudio books from Overdrive. They ask me for reading recommendations, or what is the next book in Debbie Macomber's Rose Harbor series? I also spend part of my day creating new book displays and new programming ideas. This past year I have taught classes on Scherenschnitte (German paper cutting), how to start a bullet journal to stay organized, how to write basic HTML for personal websites, and the basics of the new Windows 10. I've also organized fun things for the family to do like a Doctor Who Day at the Library. Once a month, I host a book club that typically pulls in about 15-20 people. Lest anyone forgets, all of those things are already bought and paid for by your tax dollars.

I also sit in on committee meetings. My library is implementing a texting and chat function, so patrons have MORE ways to contact us with their questions. I am one of a few working on training materials for the rest of my district's staff. Another committee I am on is working on making library cards easier to get, especially for kids.
My days are full and I don't deal with Lost and Found. If by some rare chance Ms. Riley reads this, I hope that she contacts me. I would love to give her an education about what librarians are doing in the 21st century and how many we serve on an annual basis.

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