One of the most important parts of library advocacy at the moment seems to be setting the record straight; explaining to people where they’ve got the wrong impression of libraries (be that because they’ve had a bad and unrepresentative experience and/or because they haven’t used a library in many years).
It happens an awful lot on news articles talking about library cuts. You can guarantee that a number of naysayers will comment with something from the List of Predictable Anti-Library Comments (catchy, I know):
- Libraries are an irrelevant anachronism in the digital age (here, here, and here, too. Edit: new one, here!)
- Libraries are a huge expense (no, they’re not – no, really they’re not)
- Cuts have to be made somewhere – there’s no money, libraries are not a priority and it’s better than cutting other services – if you don’t have any other suggestions, you can’t oppose library cuts (here, here, here, yawn and here too)
- Library usage is declining
- Libraries should just be about BOOKS!
- Libraries should all be QUIET!
- The book stock in libraries isn’t good quality, it’s pulp fiction
- Everything’s available online now or if it isn’t, it should be
- People should use bookshops instead
- Charity shops are an adequate replacement for libraries
- Google is better than librarians/libraries
- You don’t need librarians
- Librarians are eeeevil and have self-inflated opinions of themselves
- Everybody has the internet these days (and that’s sufficient)
- Universities and schools have libraries, use those instead (here and the first comment here, too)
- I’m all right, Jack
- I don’t know anyone who uses a library or my library’s quiet when I go in it, therefore nobody uses libraries
- I didn’t like my library the last time I used it (donkeys years ago) so it must be worse now
- Libraries don’t have books in them anymore and are just cyber-cafés with creches (here, too)
- Librarians hate books and it’s all their fault
- Libraries are dying and it’s all their fault
- Putting computers in libraries has killed them
- Librarians are just campaigning to save their jobs (from the lovely Bob on 16th Nov)
- Library closures only have an impact on the people who’ll lose their jobs (second comment)
- People stopped using libraries because they didn’t need them anymore
- Poor and/or working class people don’t read, aren’t deserving and aren’t entitled to an education so we should close libraries. Put libraries in pubs instead, that’s where poor people go isn’t it?
- ‘Foreigners’ use the computers, libraries and the resources are targeted at them not us
- This is a jackpot comment: Libraries should be all about books and only books, people can buy CDs and DVDs, librarians have chosen to get rid of stock and cut budgets, down-and-outs like the comfy chairs, librarians have been politically correct and ruined libraries.
- Why can’t we just have one big library with lots of books instead of lots of little small ones?
- Libraries are full of teenagers, yuck!
- Libraries are overstaffed
- Libraries have no role to play in social justice and equality
- Free and universal access to knowledge and culture? Scrap it! Make people pay.
- Librarians should fix the problem themselves.
These points are all wrong and/or inaccurate and have all been challenged very well by librarians, library staff and/or members of the public. It’s not exhaustive, it’s a work in progress. I might make a table of comments and responses to cut and paste from the next time they come up…
It’s been suggested that we should just ignore the naysayers and leave them to their ignorance. This is not an option! It’s really tiring to argue against all the misconceptions and misunderstandings of public libraries, but we have to. And it’s worth it. In a Times article back in August, Frank Skinner wrote about how, in his (admittedly) limited experience, libraries are out of date and awful. This caused uproar in the library community. Many people wrote to challenge his views and explain why he was wrong. One or more of them even wrote to him. And do you know, it worked! Frank changed his mind when he went to a library and saw what a lot of them are actually like these days. It might not work all the time, because some people have made their minds up and that’s it, but it’s our duty to set the record straight whenever we can. Voices for the Library aim to debunk the myths about libraries, but we can’t be everywhere all the time! Please do speak up for your services when you hear someone propagating inaccuracies. Haters ain’t necessarily gonna hate forever, and you never know, once they’re better informed, they might become great advocates of libraries themselves.
Update: I’ll keep linking to things as I come across them.