May 24, 2011

Don’t discard the librarians

We know a lot these days; we just don't know where we learned it.
“The source of information you're using, the evaluation of that source, how you use it, how you respect it and cite it – that's all what we call informational literacy,”

The world of librarians was thrown into a tizzy this week – it doesn't take much these days – when the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board announced it will shut its school libraries and dump all but four of its library technicians.

The school board has 1,000 fewer students and needs to cut $10-million, and sees “nostalgic” libraries and librarians as dispensable in a digital age. In the late 1990s, 80 per cent of Ontario's elementary schools had a teacher-librarian; today, only 56 per cent do, despite the statistical fact that active libraries and librarians improve student performance.

“We need to work on teaching 21st-century learning skills,” Cathy Geml, a Windsor school board official, explained, demonstrating her grasp of one of the 21st century's most tread-worn clichés.

That was the tip of the iceberg.
While Windsor defended its slash, top-level librarians attended a symposium at McMaster University in Hamilton on the future of academic libraries. Discussion whirled around the radical proposals of McMaster's university librarian, Jeff Trzeciak. Mr. Trzeciak is the mad dog of research librarians: His deeply digital vision is one in which shrunken libraries are staffed not by librarians, but by information technologists and (much cheaper) post-doctoral students. Those aren't just ideas, either. The University of Denver library recently put 80 per cent of its books in storage.

This is the new mantra in library land. The same day Windsor dropped its bomb, Seth Godin, a well-known blogger and business guru, published a blog that rocked the carrels of the land. “Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library,” Mr. Godin wrote, in the precipitous tone gurus prefer. “Kids … need a library not at all.”

Physical libraries and actual flesh-and-blood librarians seem to be more necessary than ever.

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