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Library Science - yes it is

Updated on October 20, 2014

Library Scientist

a stereotypical librarian type or a princess of popular culture?
a stereotypical librarian type or a princess of popular culture?

What did you say about libraries?

Well, I wasn't really talking about libraries, I mentioned the phrase Library Science which is what those in the profession refer to the higher degree available when seeking training. One can obtain a Master's in Library Science by pursuing a graduate degree through a limited number of university programs. The two words together, "library" and "science" may seem a bit of an oxymoron when given due consideration, however, as it will be explained, many learning programs are often described with the word science in it. This seems to add not only an air of importance to the type of field of study, but adds a feeling of legitimacy and perhaps even sophistication.

In any number of universities throughout the world, one can take courses in Political Science, Military Science, and even sign up for a number of scientifically based courses such as chemistry, biology or even oceanography if it is geographically desirable. Therefore it should be noted that the phrase library science, although it seems like a misnomer, is in fact a legitimate title of a noble profession.

Early Librarians at the Library of Alexandria

Librarians sort through the collection
Librarians sort through the collection

A Brief History of Libraries - yes I'm serious

Well that was just to get your attention. There is no way to adequately discuss the history of libraries here. At least in a way that is brief and complete. What can be talked about here though is the impact libraries have had historically and most importantly, their significance today. There is a lot of talk in regards to how libraries are losing their significance in modern society and slowly becoming obsolete. With the advent of the internet, the easy access to information and leisure literature, the ubiquity of telecommunications and cellular phones, the need for buildings to house literature and other writings, seems to be an effort in vain.

In reality, it does appear that the social changes in our society are influencing the way we handle information. Many people reading this article may recall a time when you could visit your local library and retrieve a set of headphones from the circulation desk and then sit down at a record player with a record and listen to the music in the library. I did this myself. Some others will recall that in order to find out if a book you were interested in was available at the library, one had to retrieve a drawer full of cards to view the location's title in the stacks. If someone else was using your drawer, you had to wait in line. If you wanted to contact a friend or family member, you had to find a pay telephone. Almost none of the devices mentioned previously exist in libraries - in the public environment for that matter - anymore.

If you want to listen to a CD now, some libraries will let you check out headphones and listen to the music in the library on a computer. There are no more card catalogs - you have to go to an antique store to find one. And certainly, when was the last time you noticed a pay telephone. The stands which once held them are ripped out structures that look like they are the skeletons of tiny buildings. Do you remember microfiche machines and how common they were? Much of what we once considered familiar has changed, drastically, almost overnight it seems. The portable technology which many youths carry around with them in their pockets, were once visions of the future when we were their age. And the amount of information in a box no bigger than a three by five card, is more powerful than the portable phones from the 1990s which weighed several pounds.

A Card Catalog

in the late 20th century library users would search for books with this machine
in the late 20th century library users would search for books with this machine

Libraries still carry books, movies, and newspapers and magazines - at least those that still offer print copies. It's rather amusing to think of how at one time, great buildings were erected, in order to house all types of books. From an archival perspective, libraries place in history is imperative. Certainly we do need to keep hard copies of maps and other historical works, if not for purposes of information, at least as a record of the way things once were. Should we eradicate all the telephones, typewriters? Where would a classic car enthusiast be if there were no more Model T's left. (Actually, I hope there are, I will verify this and post a picture).

A Model T in a museum

classic books are like classic cars, pleasant to look at and eve better to experience
classic books are like classic cars, pleasant to look at and eve better to experience

Public libraries, even in the United States, were not an institution that came along with the founding of the country. Even though the Franklin library, founded in 1778, is often credited as the first public library, many early libraries still used subscription fees to maintain support. Even in California, it wasn't until the early part of the 20th century that a Free public library system was developed. Many people today take libraries for granted because our generation as well as the previous have not known a time when they were not around. Calling them free, might be a bit of a misnomer, since most libraries receive funding from local revenues - in other words, taxpayers. Because of this fact, it is highly recommended that you patronize your local library because you are actually paying for it already.

Franklin Public Library

artist's rendering of the first US library
artist's rendering of the first US library

Contemporary Library

Libraries today are bright and often avant-garde
Libraries today are bright and often avant-garde

Libraries and the Future

One of the questions that is often asked is, what will become of the library? Will it still be around? Will I get to check out books and movies? When they replace the library card with the microchip will i get to decide if I put it in my right wrist or my left? These are certainly serious questions that we ponder today and future generations probably never understand the dilemmas we went through. What was it like when they made the transition from telegraph to telephone? Does anyone remember or even care to guess?

Libraries are sacrosanct because they represent a society's history and store the knowledge of a culture. The Library at Alexandria was said to be the center of Enlightenment and every piece of knowledge and information that could be created was stored there. Had it not it been burned down in a terrorist attack, we may have been far more advanced than we are now. Often when one country invades another, the libraries were the first targets of destruction. The internet as we know it - formerly ARPNET (and I am writing this from memory so correct me if I am wrong) was created to maintain contact between intelligence areas in the event of a disaster or attack. The internet itself is a library in many ways.

The Future

the future according to an artist (of course it looked the same 25 years ago)
the future according to an artist (of course it looked the same 25 years ago)

Libraries are not only places where the stories, the recipes, the how to build a house, care for your livestock, prepare for rainstorms or drought books are kept, but they are places where people gather. You can walk into a library and sit down and relax, read the local paper or write in your notepad. You can draw schematics or type up reports. Today you can have a cup of coffee often and chat quietly with a neighbor. Libraries provide all this without any admission cost. You don't need a ticket or have to wear a colorful bracelet. You will probably pay more to load the parking meter where you left your vehicle than you will pay in fees at the library.

This is the future of libraries and as long as we have a society, we will have people that work to prepare and keep our publications, our literature, our meeting notes from the local council board, our newspapers and magazines and any other array of eclectic miscellany that someone things might need to be kept away in a file or to be typed up and filed on a drive. Libraries will always be the repertoire of people and therefore as long as people are alive - and of course remain caring and thinking beings - there will be curators.

The Library of Congress receives two copies of every copyrighted publication printed in the United States. That's literally millions of items each year - roughly 15,000 a day. This includes records, movies, magazines, books - of every type you can think of. This way, 100 years from now when someone wants to know what books people were reading or what sort of movies we enjoyed in 2014, they can look at them and see them as we did. This of course would mean the library of congress also has to have a nice set of record players, eight track machines and beta devices - which it does.

Libraries are much more than books. They are the history of a people. They are the culture. They are the memories for future generations to look back and wonder what life was like. They are our legacy.



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