2007.02.14 Relaxing at the library

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I recently ran across an article by a California writer named Will Sherman. His piece is called “Are Librarians Totally Obsolete?” Sherman provides 33 reasons why libraries and their staff members aren’t even close to being obsolete, despite predictions of their demise in the digital age.

It sounds similar to dire warnings about newspapers. Some people had predicted they would already be dead by 2007, but we’re still alive and hobbling.

For libraries, there’s a “who needs them?” train of thought. Everything is on the internet, anyway, so who needs a paper book? Sherman derails that train in 33 ways.

Reasons number 16 and 17 discuss how a library adapts to cultural changes. Sherman says libraries are not obsolete; they’re just changing.

There’s a reference that leads to an article mentioning the “social library” where people can visit and relax.

Ginny Steel, director of libraries at Washington State University, suggests comfortable furniture in a stylish atmosphere, with comforts such as food and drink. Steel believes a library can and should fulfill a social and cultural role. Bring in art exhibits and other attractions. Allow some talking.

At her campus, people come to the library to see other people. It’s the main gathering place. Greater technological sophistication doesn’t doom libraries, she says, it allows them to keep changing to meet the needs and expectations of users.

So how about a rocker-recliner for Stair Public Library? Is that too strange of a concept for you? Worried that it might invite people to come in and fall asleep?

I suppose the staff would have to establish time limits as they do with computer usage. I can see Library Director Liz Stella walking over to a sleeping patron, grabbing him by the shoulder, trying to rouse him from sleep.

“Your 30-minute nap is over, sir. Time to get up.”

What if the sleeper were deep into the dream state with his eyeballs flying around inside the sockets and legs twitching away? Would this require an etiquette of its own?

You certainly don’t want to awaken a person during REM (rapid eye movement). I’ve been chewed out many a time (generally false accusations) for awakening the Assistant Library Director (my wife) during a dream. You just don’t want to mess with some people. Let sleeping librarians lie.

I can see the entertainment value of bringing a recliner into the library. It’s sort of fun to watch people nod off, twitch and drool.

“And if you bring in a recliner,” I said to her recently, “why not add a television with earphones?”

I was trying to be preposterous with that suggestion, but Colleen mentioned that when we visited her brother in Alaska in 1994, the library she visited in Anchorage did have a TV with headphones. Nothing farfetched about that idea.

That brought to mind 1968 as a freshman at Michigan State. The library in my dorm included turntables. Remember those antique machines that spun around and played music? I brought in Steve Miller’s “Children of the Future,” checked out a set of headphones and sat down to “study.”

It was an amazing experience for a small-town boy who lacked large sums of disposable income. I didn’t even own a good record player. I think I might have been using a hand-me-down from my sister. With the poor speaker built into the box and the scratchy sound, I never knew what I was missing. I guess I should say that I never knew what the music really sounded like. It was beautiful, almost a mystical experience to hear this stuff over headphones.

And it happened in my library, where things are always changing to better serve the public.

So first comes the recliner, then an iPod recharging station in the left arm of the chair. And I want wireless and a laptop to use when I’m leaning back to relax.

I’m thinking about a sauna in the basement of Stair Public Library. I think an exercise bike with a laptop holder would work well, too.

Perhaps I’m asking for too much. Maybe they could just get a decent turntable with a good set of headphones.

    – Feb. 14, 2007 

 

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