Libraries: Thoughts Inspired by Jonathan Rose

Like many other institutions invested in old media, the library has struggled during the age of the internet. As a technology that can supposedly do everything, the internet has become the world’s premier well of information. For this reason, previously dominant media such as the book, the newspaper and the magazine have had to adapt and have each done so with varying degrees of success. Books have been translated into one for one digital copies or E-Books; newspapers have sacrificed their structures in favour of more decentralized forms such as the webpage or twitter stream; and magazines have made the shift from weekly or monthly publications into full fledged webscapes like Buzzfeed, which output constant streams of multimedia content. This improve and replace paradigm has served as the basis of most advancements in internet based communications for the past twenty or so years. Despite these shifts, no old media has been totally eclipsed. People who grew up collecting books or thumbing through the morning paper will almost certainly hold onto these habits. For this reason, primary producers and promoters of traditional media remain relatively unscathed by the internet. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for secondary institutions which surround the old media. The library as it has been traditionally known is slowly starting to erode.

For many, the library doesn’t represent much: a building with books, a necessity while attending post-secondary education, maybe even a waste of money to some. Even at UNBSJ, the library seems to be an underappreciated resource. In my four years of study, I have only seen someone browsing the libraries shelves a handful of times. For the Hans Klohn Commons, the draw seems to be to the social space or the extensive bank of computers which line the ground floor. I myself am guilty of this. Typically if I need resources for a paper or an assignment I use the off-campus Ebrary provided through the university. Personally, I think our library suffers from the same problem that the university does: location. Like UNBSJ, the Hans Klohn Commons is isolated from the rest of the city.

When located within active communities, libraries have the potential to become centers of social engagement. In Rose’s chapter on the Welsh Miner Libraries, libraries were the result of active communities that wanted to further themselves. Catechisms, Bible studies and general religious literary had spurred a rural underclass into active engagement with scholarship. As Rose notes, the libraries of welsh mining communities became a sort of underground universities. The success of these miners’ libraries largely hinged on the people which frequented them. Without strong, active communities, the welsh libraries dried up.

Personally, Rose’s chapter served as a cautionary tale. Libraries hold a special place within communities: they democratize access to a tremendous amount of printed information, offer spaces for the interpersonal exchange of ideas, and provide support to those who want to further themselves intellectually. In Saint John, the Uptown library serves all of these purposes. Offering the community access to events such as the Fog Lit Festival for writers and readers, adult literacy classes and open discussion nights, the library is an irreplaceable asset in the Greater Saint John area. As libraries continue to atrophy during the internet age, it is important to realize that they are not simply banks of information. Instead, they are vibrant communities which depend primarily upon engagement.  

One thought on “Libraries: Thoughts Inspired by Jonathan Rose

  1. There is considerable, and sometimes bitter, debate about the future of academic libraries. Some advocate a no-books ideal, at least for smaller campuses, while others of us cannot imagine an institution of higher learning without a real library. That being said, even those of us who long for the libraries of our youth now work more and more with screens.

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