Librarians and Civilization





As usual in Wicklow town the staff in the local Library are incredibly helpful and saved me a fortune in books by sourcing copies of volumes  on loan I was pricing on the Internet. There are few jobs more unappreciated than that of the librarian, which is not cool at all. That the work of librarians is so taken for granted is probably why in its infinite lack of wisdom our Government here in Ireland have decided to not replace librarians if they retire. It is therefore more and more difficult to keep libraries open. It is horrifying enough the cutbacks that are going on all along the Civil Service (esp. the Health Service –which is truly unconscionable), but it rankles how libraries are being affected. It is no understatement to say that  librarians are one of the gate keepers of civilization. The fact that so much is available via the internet should expand rather than contract the portfolio of the librarian, and libraries are rapidly expanding their grasp of the virtual availability of books and online data.

The electronic availability of media does not mean that the library should by implication be somewhere where paper books or  e-books or downloadable books or public study areas be discontinued incrementally and the availability of texts or knowledge  therefore relegated to the realm of the virtual or the marketplace. On the contrary it should open our society  to a new discussion as to how knowledge be disseminated and how libraries be libraries of the future, for a library is not a data centre and knowledge is not information nor is it cold dispassionate data.

A writer mines raw data and transforms into something intelligible, a product of  the intellect and the imagination, a finished piece of thinking which we call a book in this instance, a particular representation of a society and a culture’s self understanding at a particular juncture in history – that is whether or not one agrees with the contents of the book or indeed many of the books being written and published. It is not without significance that Google in its efforts to bring forth an ultimate Artificial Intelligence, sought to scan and download all the billions of books in the world, including everything currently under copyright. This was because within a book there remains the fullest scope of an act of human intellectual apprehension of a subject. Take for instance: in a particular historical scientific or sociological book there might be an introduction to the  study and its proposed scope, a grasp of the current state of research on the subject, an analysis of the research and an act of speculation not only of where research might be going but possible future avenues where a particular discipline might lead and where it intersects with other disciplines. Thus to have an up to date library, a repository of knowledge in as many towns as possible, that is a truly active library, makes a huge statement about the intellectual and cultural life of a town. To close a library, to restrict a library service, is a disservice to the community on more levels than one might imagine. It sends a bad message about the cultural and intellectual life of a community. One may as well start closing the Churches, the Town Hall and the pubs too.  Libraries are places where in any civilized country where one can investigate, think, write, research online for free, chat online, read the papers, bring ones children to play and read and make a fuss generally, play games online, listen to music, watch movies, or if you are me – fall asleep in the midst of reading and be woken up by a cross librarian and be told one cannot sleep and by the way I am snoring in a place where people are trying to work. 


For myself, though I have received many well-deserved letters demanding the return of borrowed books, I can never fully repay either libraries or librarian the enormous debt I owe them. For instance, and I don’t particularly want to become too personal here, my favourite place to avoid school was not to go to bars or snooker halls, but you guessed it – I just loved libraries. I would read literally all day, when not nodding off asleep. I would take one book off the shelf and if it was sufficiently interesting, read it through. I lived near a library, and round the corner from my primary and secondary school, so I would  be able to live my double life, a school life where I learned, well, some things (for instance how to use my martial arts training to protect myself) and libraries, where whole worlds of meaning opened up to me.

So if you are reading this and you want to do something send an email to AlexWhiteTD ( email (TWITTER @AlexWhiteTD )
telling this very newly appointed minister to rescind the moratorium on replacing library staff throughout Ireland as it is a disservice to the country and sends a bad message about the importance of learning in Irish Local Communities. Smile Thanks!

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