rage against the library machine

Yesterday in my "Foundations of Library and Information Science" class, we discussed the role of the librarian in the digital era. It's a fascinating and important issue for librarian students to unpack, as there are vast implications for public services, education, equal access - and our future employment. I can't do it justice here, but I will pass along this alternative vision: the robo-library.

Wall Street Journal:
New Library Technologies Dispense With Librarians

In this suburb of St. Paul, the new library branch has no librarians, no card catalog and no comfortable chairs in which to curl up and read.

Instead, the Library Express is a stack of metal lockers outside city hall. When patrons want a book or DVD, they order it online and pick it up from a digitally locked, glove-compartment- sized cubby a few days later. It's a library as conceived by the Amazon.com generation.

Faced with layoffs and budget cuts, or simply looking for ways to expand their reach, libraries around the country are replacing traditional, full-service institutions with devices and approaches that may be redefining what it means to have a library.

Later this year Mesa, Ariz., plans to open a new "express" library in a strip-mall, open three days a week, with outdoor kiosks to dispense books and DVDs at all hours of the day. Palm Harbor, Fla., meanwhile, has offset the impact of reduced hours by installing glass-front vending machines that dispense DVDs and popular books.

The wave of innovation is aided by companies that have created new machines designed to help libraries save on labor. For instance, Evanced Solutions, an Indianapolis company that makes library software, this month is starting test trials of a new vending machine it plans to start selling early next year.

Read it here. Even some of the comments on that story are surprisingly worth reading.

In this vision of the library, there is no serendipitous discovery of a new book - or a new idea. There is no one to help with research. There is no children's storytime, ESL classes, or resume-writing workshops. No quiet, safe space for teens and tweens to study after school. No free internet access for the millions who cannot afford it at home. No private internet access for people who need to research something without their family's knowledge. No help for those confused about computer use but too embarrassed to ask anyone they know for help. No place for seniors to read magazines.

Really, there is no library at all.

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