Monday, June 28, 2010

Neil Gaiman, Librarian's Son

I'M trying to make this blog about more than just the collapse of the library system -- really I am -- but events keep bringing me back to the matter. The latest is the report of an excellent speech by writer Neil Gaiman about the importance of libraries. 

This article, in London's Daily Telegraph, reports on the novelist -- whose mother was a librarian -- picking up the Carnegie Medal for The Graveyard Book. (The award is given by the Chartered Institute of Information Professionals.)

In short, Gaiman described closing libraries as "stealing from the future." Here's what he said:

 "Libraries are our future – to close them would be a terrible, terrible mistake – it would be stealing from the future to pay for today which is what got us into the mess we’re in now.
"In this austerity world it's incredibly easy if you are a local authority and you are looking for cuts, to say 'Let's cut libraries'. But that's borrowing from the future."
Part of what I also like is the way he insists on the importance of libraries and librarians in the Internet age -- calling them "more important than ever."
Anyone who follows this blog -- or the current debates over libraries, information technology, and so on -- knows that libraries are hardly just about musty old books. Though without musty old books, we surely wouldn't have writers like Neil Gaiman.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Libraries really run themselves, don't they?

During the nightmare in Pasadena, as the district opts to close all school libraries (and doesn't seem to be backing down), one comment on the Pasadena Star-News web site simply suggested that the kids shelve the books and the library...well, libraries are really systems run on autopilot anyway, right? 

I'm always flabbergasted whenever someone throws out the idea that libraries basically run themselves. Aside from being totally insulting to librarians, it's a downright ridiculous suggestion. 

There's a reason why my MLIS program is the most difficult educational program that I've ever been in (and I've been in many) -- libraries are serious business, and they need trained professionals running them.

This kind of inane ignorance about libraries, though, is what got us to this place, where vital public library systems will close their doors two days a week. (Click here for the Los Angeles Times story on the L.A. public library closures.)

Here's a voice of reason on the topic. Andrew Motion, former poet laureate of Britain, has denounced this "let the library run itself" idea (well, let the library be run by volunteers), which is spreading like wildfire. Quite appropriately, Motion frames this as an issue of equity.

Motion says, "Whether we are traditionalists about libraries or not, and I consider myself not, we ought to be able to accept that libraries are very important pieces of machinery for delivering to human beings what they need – information, pleasure, instruction, enlightenment, new direction in life. They're also joining up with services which help people with difficulty reading, and working with people learning English – to put all that in danger is exactly the wrong thing to do," he said.

Here's the rest of the story, from The Guardian.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

YA dystopias -- are we in hell, or just high school?

In another example of YA's tight grip on even adult book lovers, Laura Miller has a great piece in the recent New Yorker magazine about young adult dystopian novels. Books discussed here -- Hunger Games, Maze Runner, The Knife of Never Letting Go -- have an ardent following in my library.

I held my breath a bit as Miller attacks Hunger Games' every flaw (she's spot on with each criticism), making it all sound like complete nonsense. But then she completely gets it with this amazing section:

"If, on the other hand, you consider the games as a fever-dream allegory of the adolescent social experience, they become perfectly intelligible. Adults dump teenagers into the viper pit of high school, spouting a lot of sentimental drivel about what a wonderful stage of life it's supposed to be."

The rest of this section is brilliant, but it's too long to quote. Here's the full, incredibly thoughtful article, in which Miller shows a deep understanding of why students love these dark, creepy books. It might make YA-obsessive adults wonder, however, if they're still having a hard time getting over their own high school hazing.