Well look what we got here. (Hey, pcsweeney.)
Working at a library is an unparalleled opportunity to witness the full range of human curiosity, from excited students working on school assignments together to wild-eyed entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams to careful senior citizens researching where to invest their personal savings to supplement their pensions (and lots more besides). All these people were using the library as a place, a resource, and a community. Because that’s what libraries are.
And we’ve never needed that more than we need it today. We’ve run out of places. What used to be public squares and parks are now malls. Places that used to welcome kids now prohibit them (in England, where I live, some smart-aleck invented a device called “the mosquito,” which plays a shrill tone only audible to young ears, used to drive children away from semi-public spaces like the benches in front of stores).
What’s more, we’re *drowning* in information. Pre-Internet librarianship was like pre-Internet newspaper publishing: “select, then publish.” That is, all the unfiltered items are presented to a gatekeeper, who selects the best of them, and puts them in front of the rest of the world. Now we live in a “publish, then select” world: everyone can reach everything, all the time, and the job of experts is to collect and annotate that material, to help others navigate its worth and truthfulness.
That is to say that society has never needed its librarians, and its libraries, more. The major life-skill of the information age is information literacy, and no one’s better at that than librarians. It’s what they train for. It’s what they live for.
But there’s another gang of information-literate people out there, a gang who are a natural ally of libraries and librarians: the maker movement. Clustered in co-operative workshops called “makerspaces” or “hack(er)spaces,” makers build physical stuff. They make robots, flying drones, 3D printers (and 3D printed stuff), jewelry, tools, printing presses, clothes, medieval armor… Whatever takes their fancy. Making in the 21st century has moved out of the individual workshop and gone networked. Today’s tinkerer work in vast, distributed communities where information sharing is the norm, where the ethics and practices of the free/open source software movement has gone physical.
Holla atcha, Cory Doctorow.