I’ve been helping out at the library once or twice a week with shelving, mending, and with setting up book displays. My full-time colleagues handle the queries and all the other administrative tasks. I enjoy my time there immensely because it is quiet (usually) and I get first (or second) dibs on new books and magazines.
After these several months, I’ve come to realise something rather sad: technology has relegated librarians to sorting, mending, shelving and hunting for misplaced items. As one of my colleagues puts it – “Nobody sees us till they don’t see the books.”
The typical users in my library look for their books on computers. They can check if the books are available, and an automatic layout pops up with the locations. They borrow their books by scanning their Library IDs and then the books, and out comes a little date-due slip. The same computers tell them where to locate reference books and resources meant for in-library reading. If there is a fine to be paid, it is deducted from a cashcard. Librarians not required.
My colleagues find themselves excelling these days in two major areas: on search and rescue missions when the computer says a book is right there but nobody knows where it really is, and by listening when visitors come in more for a chat than a book. Because, yes, we do have visitors who stop by mid-morning and stay past teatime as the library represents their only human contact for the day.
As the march of technology continues with ebooks and elibraries, and as funds are diverted to apparently more useful purposes than maintaining a building for reading, the community library and its librarians may be endangered. I find that sad.
Now, I realise not all libraries are the same, nor are their visitors. My experiences may simply be the result of my particular community. But I suspect there might be some similarities wherever you are.
So what has this rambling piece got to do with kindness?
I want to say “thank you” to the three teenagers who asked if we needed help with putting up posters. To the lady who asked if we wanted coffee on her way to get some. To the two little girls who said, “thank you, and see you in two weeks!” as they left. To the visitors who wave, smile and plain old recognise there is a human being sitting behind the counter.
And to you, the librarian: thank you for doing what you do in promoting reading, in caring for reading material, in maintaining a safe environment for reading whether it is in a school or community hall, for being the forgotten guardian of what we want to know.