Libraries and newspapers

15Mar09

I could not have predicted Web 2.0 or the popularity of craigslist ten years ago, when I first got interested in the Internet. But I have been a life long newspaper reader, who has migrated to the daily online format. I don’t love the digital version of the National Post. Somehow my time is more precious and I no longer buy a daily newspaper and I often wonder if print newspapers will be around in the same incarnation in 10 years time. Clay Shirky, who writes about open source software, web economics and social computing, claims that newspapers did not recognize that society need journalism, an unbiased reporting of events, and newspapers are just the vehicle for journalism.

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

I would argue libraries are also caught in this conundrum. Libraries are not to be confused with warehouse of stuff; they are merely a way to spread information and then knowledge. Public libraries, in particular, may be where a child first learns to love books. Or a fledgeling entrepreneur finds the support to launch a business empire. Libraries, like newspapers, need to look beyond the obvious and see what purposes they fill in people’s lives and continue to be relevant institutions.

- Brenda

Brief synopsis and reaction to Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.

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2 Responses to “Libraries and newspapers”

  1. Hi — I found you via the trackbacks on Clay Shirky’s post. I like your desire to connect the newspaper discussion with libraries, especially public libraries.

    It’s been six years since our former public library director defended closing branch libraries because, in his mind, libraries had no future. “Won’t everyone be using the internet?” was his view.

    I like where you’re going with your post, I think. The two main ingredients of public libraries is having a safe public place to learn and having a curator help connect people with the knowledge they seek (or even knowledge they don’t seek!)

    The risk, if there is risk, is to make the transition from books to something new while still being funded. If the people with the money see libraries as ‘that place where books are’, there’s trouble.

    Or in Clay’s terms, society doesn’t need libraries — they need safe access to knowledge. And librarians.

  2. 2 Karen

    I also cannot believe how quickly print media has collapsed. Today, the Seattle P-I starts an on-line version only. Here in Winnipeg, the Free Press has laid off reporters, and reduced the paper to three sections to save on newsprint (although they swear there’s no less content). I love my daily paper, especially for local news. I enjoy getting to know the personalities of the columnists, based on their writing. On the other hand, at work, I appreciate on-line access and the ability to filter for just the material I need.

    I also think you’ve made an excellent point comparing libraries. I joke to my lawyers that “I am the most valuable resource in the library” to emphasize that it’s not the books on the shelves that are valuable, it’s having someone who can point you in the right direction and tell you which book to look at. In the same way, journalists tell us which story we should be paying attention to. We really can’t do without either!



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