I thank my friend Kshema (http://kshema-distancelibraryservices.blogspot.com/2010/10/species-called-librarians-dinosaurs-or.html) for inspiring the crystallization of this thought in me. She was asking the reader what a librarian was – a dinosaur, a phoenix or an ugly duckling.
It was an interesting choice of imagery, and I thought that one would need to have a take on what libraries were in order to judge what the librarian inside was.
Our libraries are not just the places where we store/dump/donate our wanted or unwanted books. They are not just the places we go to in order to gain access that we individually cannot afford – in that sense, it is not a carpool arrangement. Rather, our libraries are the edifices that we build in representation of, often in honor or rejection of who we are, and how we became who we are so that it can be conveyed and symbolized not only to ourselves, but to our progeny, and to our friends and enemies.
Seen that way, libraries are not merely about how knowledge is preserved and shared, but about the social, cultural and political processes of emphasizing and often defining what a social group considers as ‘knowledge’ that is worth preservation and sharing. If we look closely, we are what our libraries are.
If so, then the role of technology recedes only to a facilitative role. In the most flexible and lively versions of libraries, the process of procuring, preserving, augmenting and sharing the knowledge resources would expand with little brittleness of attitude so as to include computers and IT – or whatever the mode-de-jour be.
But even in its most retarded form, see what libraries can give us: the sheer awe-inspiration and tingling of nerves when we see rows upon rows of well-kept books, the smell of glue and leather binding, the sheen of gold lettering, and the feeling of being in dialogue with a large number of people whom you have never met. More can you talk to Mahatma and Hitler one after the other? You can, in a library – it is surreal!
This is what individual households can rarely give, and so I think libraries would never be irrelevant. And the role of the librarian? Same as the soul had in the body.
I believe that a librarian should not be merely an agent of change. A librarian should also struggle tooth and nail for keeping what is old. Should be tolerant towards the most debunked and criticized authors – sometimes some people are a generation ahead of their times, so they are valued only much after their copies are burned and – sometimes, they are, too. And the librarian should be a loving parent who loves the members as if they needed gentle hand-holding. A librarian should also be a politician that strives to get more resources and membership – and more…