Last week as the New York Public Library opened a new branch in Battery Park, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said,
Any day we open a library is a good day.
Meanwhile, Boston announced the closure of perhaps as many as 10 of its 26 branch libraries and Los Angeles announced huge budget cuts that will likely mean similar closures.
As someone who spends more time thinking about academic libraries than public ones I am interested in the language used on both sides of the debate to characterize libraries. And while I am saddened by the potential closure of so many libraries (mostly because I think once you close a library you are never really likely to get it back…despite the new NYPL branch), I am almost more saddened at the language used in the American Libraries article to describe libraries.
“Libraries are about books and librarians,” said one of the Boston residents protesting the closures. And BPL’s president Amy Ryan called librarians “information navigators” and said, “we can’t take a car designed in the 1970s onto today’s information superhighway.”
I think they are both wrong. If you look at the opening of the NYPL branch it seems to me that the most important thing in public libraries are the people who go into them. As much as I hate to say this (being both a fan of books and a librarian), we can’t build or sustain libraries for books, information, or librarians, we have to build them for people and communities.