“Eventually, these book people will be dead.”

“Eli: most of the library leadership in this country have a book fetish, and you have to pander to that to get the money; this isn’t a loss leader; eventually, these book people will be dead”

Honest to Gaia, I didn’t believe I’d read that the first time, here in one of Jenny Levine’s first-rate posts about the Gaming Symposium.

But there it is.

And I thought the “Library 2.0″ meme was getting a touch confrontational! Still, I’ve never heard a Library 2.0 advocate comment that eventually, these Library 1.0 people will be dead…

It’s true, of course: Eventually we’ll all be dead. Not something I’d usually use as an argument or something to celebrate, but I wasn’t there and don’t know the context.

I was pleased to note that George Needham quoted my so-called ideas directly at one point and indirectly a couple of other times. Of course, eventually I’ll be dead too…

11 Responses to ““Eventually, these book people will be dead.””

  1. George Needham Says:

    Eli also noted that his remarks were specifically intended to be provocative, especially after I feigned a heart attack on the stage.

    Back in the day, we were the rebels storming the barricades. It’s kind of fun to watch another generation figuring which barricades to storm and how to do it.

  2. walt Says:

    So if I say “Eventually, all who advocate X will be dead”–when I’m arguing that Y is the way to go–it’s OK as long as I say I’m being deliberately provocative? Hmm. What other outrageous things can I say with that excuse?

    I would have taken the remark about losing a whole generation was provocative. The quoted remark falls into a different category…

    I guess I was never much of a rebel. Maybe that’s why I’ve been an under-achiever all my life. Even at Berkeley, I was the one getting tear gassed because I’d walk under teargas-saturated trees on my way to work (at the library, at 6 a.m., true story).

  3. Angel Says:

    Walt: I saw you post a reference to that in the comment you left in my blog, and it did not make as much sense until I came over here and saw the actual remark. There is the advantage of those people who take notes and/or blog. You can find out from them what was said anywhere. Like you, I wonder how far the “provocative” line can be used. I mean, I happen to like books very much, but I also happen to like some gaming and a few of the social 2.0 tools. Do I have to croak as well? Not that I was planning on living forever or anything you know.

    He also made a remark about there being a literacy scare. Since the symposium seems to be blending a couple of things, gaming for public libraries on the one hand, and information literacy applications in academia, it made me wonder, but I hope he is not implying that information literacy and its teaching are just a mere hype. I would send him a bibliography on the literature of undergraduate research behaviors and related things, but I am afraid he is under 50 (referring to his remark that you can’t give a 10 year old a bibliography, but you can to a 50 year old).

    Anyways, Walt, like you, I was not there either, so I have to rely on the written record. Maybe if it did not bother the audience, it’s no biggie, right? Then again. . .

    Best.

  4. Jenny Levine Says:

    Just some clarification…. First of all, the gaming isn’t related to “Library 2.0,” so I don’t think you can paint that concept as “confrontational” based on something said at this event.

    Second of all, I’m pretty sure we got the audio from this session, so when we get the podcasts up, you’ll be able to hear the full context for yourself and decide if Eli really meant book fettishists should die.

    Personally, I understood him to say that there are people in charge of libraries right now who believe the book is inherently more valid a service than other media (as George pointed out when he noted similarity to the 1970s debate about videos in libraries). These people who focus only on the book at the expense of other formats or services are doing a disservice to their libraries by not being willing to explore other options, and Eli’s point was that eventually these people won’t be in charge anymore and we can move forward with something besides just the book. gorman

    Was he being intentionally provocative? Yes, he was. That’s Eli, and I asked him to present at the symposium because he believes so passionately in gaming as a library service and he has the proof to back up his claims. I deliberately say provocative things from time to time in an effort to get people to think about something beyond a knee-jerk reaction, but we all know that some people can’t get past jerking the knee.

    However, several people in the room took issue with Eli’s statement, and that was okay. That was the whole point. I think it’s a bit extreme to say Eli was “celebrating” the fact that these people will be dead, but then that’s just my personal opinion.

    Finally, the “literacy scare” was a reference to something Constance Steinkuehler highlighted in her presentation, and she had plenty of quotes from newspapers and magazines to back it up. In fact, she delighted in showing how she thought they were wrong, and I thought she did a very good job of it. In his own reference to the subject, Eli never said anything even remotely negative about information literacy education, so even if you disagree with his statement about the book fettishists, he was NOT maligning information literacy in any way. We need to be very clear about that.

    Again, I hope you listen to the audio when we get it posted (hopefully it came out okay) before making the same kind of sweeping generalization you’re accusing Eli of making. You know as well as anyone that even running blog notes don’t capture the full context of any event.

    One last comment – while you seem to count yourself as a “book fettishist” on the opposite side of the fence from Eli, I don’t think he would include you in his comment at all, Walt. You don’t prize the book at the expense of other services, and as George noted, you’re the embodiment of “and,” not “or.” That’s really more what Eli was trying to say, and I believe you have more in common than you think.

  5. Laura Says:

    Hmm. . . I think of myself as one of those book people, actually. Then again, I also think of myself as one of those blogging people. I’ll be 30 next week (and thus presumably no longer trustworthy), but thus also not likely to croak any time soon. All very interesting. I don’t think any of us has to be “one of those ___ people”–I myself am not a gaming person–but recognizing that others are, and that their thing is as valid and useful as yours, though often useful in different ways and for different purposes–is a good thing.

    Thanks to all those contributing to the discussion.

  6. walt Says:

    I think some responses are needed here.

    I wasn’t claiming that Library 2.0 and gaming are related; I’m saying that I’m seeing confrontational issues with Library 2.0, and this seemed to be another (and more extreme) case.

    It would be interesting to have examples of library directors who disregard everything except books. For all his faults, Michael Gorman is not such a person. Does he believe that books are at the core of good library service? Possibly. I believe that–and have said for years that any public library that’s only about books is in trouble and should be.

    Intentionally provocative is fine, but it’s a tough balancing act to pull off. I didn’t say Eli was celebrating the notion of a whole group of people dieing off. Here’s what I said: “Not something I’d usually use as an argument or something to celebrate, but I wasn’t there and don’t know the context.” But if he wasn’t using it as an argument and wasn’t celebrating it, then what was he doing? It’s such an extreme statement that it goes beyond ordinary provocation–at least in my view. Maybe that’s because I’m not young enough to think I’m immortal. If he’d said “eventually these people will all retire,” that’s still provocative (it implies that nobody among younger librarians treats books as the primary medium, which I suspect is false), but it’s well within normal rhetorical bounds. I just can’t hear “eventually, these book people will be dead” as not being over the top…and I suspect hearing the audio version won’t change that. What? You say with a chuckle, “they’ll all be dead”?

    I didn’t comment about the literacy scare. As you may or may not know, I spent considerable time (and got some heat for) analyzing some claims that [print] literacy was going away (which I don’t believe there’s any solid evidence for); I’m not sure whose side I’d be on.

    No, I wasn’t counting myself as a book fetishist on the opposite side of the fence from Eli. I was specifically objecting to that one comment. As noted above, I do believe that books have a special place at the core of public libraries, but that’s quite different from believing that other media and services aren’t important. I don’t doubt that Eli and I have lots in common. One thing we don’t have: A willingness to talk about death as a solution, even in jest. (Eli’s probably half my age; that may explain a lot.)

    And, frankly, if your blogging wasn’t so superior to most conference blogging I’ve seen lately (where all you get is a series of one-sentence paragraphs, difficult for me to read and make sense of), I would never have thought to post the entry.

  7. eli Says:

    I knew that line would have legs. As Jenny says, I am not inviting anyone to die, or bow out, or clam up, no matter what they think about books. My opinion is simply that the idea that books possess more inherent worth than other content formats, even than other text formats, is an idea with an expiration date.

    I also said that I’m certain that my Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren will still know what books are, and have use for them. They just won’t view books as possessing a fundamentally higher value than other content formats. It’s quite possible they’ll consider them less worthy than whatever format is most compatible with their brain implants, etc. etc.

    On the other hand, if our entire society collapses between now and then, the book will indeed be the most valuable format around. I don’t think it’s the role of public libraries to prepare for that scenario.

    Every generation celebrates the idea that at some point, their forebears will be out of the way and they’ll get a chance to do things differently. I put that bluntly, Walt, and I’m glad that it’s resulted in this conversation.

  8. walt Says:

    A timing note: Eli’s comment came in before my comment above, but for some reason required moderation (as did Laura’s–I use default moderation standards, and continue to get enough spamment that I can’t turn off partial moderation).

    My issue with Eli on this point is how bluntly he put the idea. I strongly doubt that he’s right that holding books in special regard is going to disappear in librarianship any time soon (note Laura above, and I’ve certainly heard similar comments from a number of people who won’t be retiring for several decades)–but in any case, saying “will be out of the way” and “will be dead” are quite different animals. Maybe more so if you’re on the downside of that particular slope and find immediate family and/or close friends dropping off the slope every single year.

    None of this discussion speaks to the whole set of motives for/results of the gaming symposium. There is an interesting discussion buried in here: Is there truly a universal or even near-universal generational shift among librarians? (Or, to use one of my old standing themes, are KTD-Kids These Days–truly mutants?) While I’m pretty sure of the answer to the parenthetical question (No), I have no idea as to the other answer. I hear the most prominent voices; that’s not quite the same thing.

  9. Jason Says:

    Very interesting set of discussions going on here. I followed the trail from Jenny to Walt, and I must say: I’m even one of those librarians that feels as Eli does, and I’m not entirely sure I’d have put it that way.

    Of course, I often say things that blunt, so perhaps I’m wrong.

    I do agree with Eli that the fetishization of The Book as the holy writ of information source is going away fast, and should probably be going away faster than it is.

  10. walt Says:

    Maybe once winter passes, I’ll take the time to look back at my own so-called principles.

    As I look at this situation, I believe that I’m not so much a “book fetishist” (in fact, I believe such a label–which, as far as I know, nobody around here is making–would be flatly wrong) as a “story fetishist.” I believe that libraries have a special role in collecting, organizing, and maintaining stories at all levels (fiction, nonfiction, specifically local for public libraries, etc.), along with local data and resources (to be sure) and that stories maybe do deserve more attention than other things (garden tools, raw data, whatever).

    That’s not a new thought with me; that is, others have said it earlier and better, and I’ve said it in the past in print and in person, although in print I’ve sometimes used the more “scholarly” term “linear narrative.” I am certainly a heretic in believing that “information” is a poor post on which to hang the library hat (an awful metaphor).

    But this all needs further thought on my part.

  11. Barbara Fister Says:

    “You people…” (Ross Perot)

    This is all very interesting, since I am in an academic library where the fetish object tends to be electronic technology. The younger librarians I work with are open to all kinds of formats – and they don’t see any reason to think one is more valuable or exciting or attractive to students simply because of the container. They’ve grown up with this stuff, it isn’t that magical. But a lot of library “leaders” seem to be terribly interested in appearing to be on the cutting edge and books are just so old hat.

    It’s interesting in the recent OCLC report the “brand” most identified with libraries is books. Which apparently is something we don’t embrace, even if our users do. Is this because the heck with users, it’s non-users we’re so worried about – even though visits to libraries have doubled in the past ten years? Or is it because we think information is where it’s at and too many library users ignore our shiny new databases in favor of stories?

    I have really enjoyed Wayne Wiegand’s writing on this topic. He suggests in an Oct. 2003 Library Quarterly article that LIS has a historical bias toward “useful knowledge” as opposed to Walt’s stories and we ignore what scholars of American Studies know, that the library “is now, and for the last decade, has been a very active civic agency.”

    Anyway, interesting exchange and rather surprising for this academic librarian.


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