Saturday, February 27, 2010

Librarians...superheroes in cardigans.

She had a prim demeanor and a bun meticulously pinned to the nape of her neck. She looked over her wire rim glasses with a glare that could freeze a cheetah in its tracks. Her navy blue cardigan and low pumps testified to her sensible dedication to neatness and organization. She was LIBRARIAN; even the letters on her name plate were standing at attention. I edged closer in awe and trepidation, knowing she held the key to the daunting fortress of information that was the library. I took one more cautious step and her eyes squinted, daring me to interrupt her important typing and ask her a question. As the adrenaline pumped through my veins, my instincts screamed flight and I ran for the hills. I could just Google interpretations of Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, right?

Everyone recognizes the stereotype of the librarian, but few people understand the role that librarians can play in the 21st  century. As a student working towards her MSLIS degree and a future librarian, I will admit that I am deeply biased by believing that not only are librarians as vital or more so than they have been historically, but also that they may just well be tomorrows superheroes. Unlike some, I do not necessarily concede that the world is facing information overload. Physiologically our brains are not processing more information on a daily basis than they were 50 years ago. However, the type, the format, the transmission, and perhaps even the significance of the information we are absorbing has changed. Few people can tell a front is moving in without, the average American spends more time looking at a computer than sleeping, social networks have become more than a way to reconnect with friends and are now awash with professionals, and a clip of a baby biting his brother's finger is the to-date most popular video on YouTube.

Amidst this user-created chaos, how can we find what we are really looking for? How do we even know what we are really looking for? In a world of blogs, tweets, posts, and comment boards how do we find the primary source? How do we know what has authority? How do we even define authority in such an environment? Google will find you information. I will not deny it and personally use it frequently, but a search engine designed to give you the most commonly used information cannot be expected to give you the most accurate information. This is why no software based on algorithms will ever replace the intuition and understanding of a librarian. The Dewey Decimal System was not developed because of a neurotic need to put books neatly on the shelves, but because of the desire to make information available, findable, and understandable to users.  Information has been our commodity since Ancient Sumeria. We have always been navigators, guides, trailblazers. Organizing chaos is what we do. And you still need us, perhaps more than ever.

I can just here the deep voice over now--"In a world overrun with information, the only ones who could save us from ourselves were the ever-patient, ever-watchful librarians!"

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