Friday, April 6, 2012

Why Librarians Don't Matter.

According to this infographic, you don't matter. 

You are replaceable.

You are overpriced.

You are irrelevant in a world embracing Wikipedia. 

You are obsolete.


Encyclopedia Britanica announced sometime around March 14th plans to discontinue their 32-volume encyclopedia after remaining in print for 244 years. Instead, the company will focus primarily on delivering digital content in addition to its other educational endeavors. You've no doubt heard about this.

On March 19th I received an email referring me to the infographic above, suggesting that I may like to share it with all of you.

Actually, I believe her exact comment was "I think your readers will enjoy it, so feel free to share it and let me know if you do! I’d love to get your thoughts as well."

I responded with my thoughts. A short time later my friend and colleague Joyce Valenza posted a response to her Neverending Search blog. She debunked much of the flaws in the way the information is presented and, rightfully, questioned the sources to which the infographic refers. Yet here I am nearly three weeks later and I'm still thinking about the Wikipedia: Redefining Research infographic.

The case for Wikipedia takes a turn against libraries and librarians with the statement. "Students use Wikipedia more than libraries."

For starters, this is bad grammar. This statement implies that students use Wikipedia more than libraries use Wikipedia. But let's assume what they meant to say was students use Wikipedia more than they use libraries. I wonder how many actually use Wikipedia in a library? 

But let's get down to brass tacks. Do you think your job is important? Do you think you can be replaced? Do you think libraries are overfunded? Prove it.

Prove. It.

What really rubs me the wrong way with this infographic is that somebody actually believes the information they're presenting. They feel it's relevant and important enough to not only share it with others, but to, in fact, seek out teacher librarians to promote this infographic among their PLNs. 

We can say to one another that we think our profession is important. We can say we think we're underpaid. We're under-appreciated. We're overlooked. But if this is the message we're sending out to our patrons there is something very wrong. 

This is a tireless job and one not unlike Sisyphus, sentenced to roll the boulder uphill for the remainder of his life. We are constantly fighting. Constantly advocating. Constantly working to change the world's perception of our profession.

Wikipedia spends $20.1 million on operating costs annually. By comparison, operating costs in US libraries total $10.9 billion each year. Isn't this the same as when a principal questions why a school needs a teacher librarian when, in fact, the books are where all the information is stored? The logic doesn't make any sense to someone in the profession, but we're not the ones making the budget calls.

This is School Library Month. It's an opportunity for us to bring the community into our libraries and show them what we're doing within the building that makes us indispensable. It's not a time to be shy. We must be confident in our roles in the building. We must invite the community in and invite others to explore their investments, check out the collections, see what we're doing with the resources provided by those tax dollars at work.

I hope that this infographic disturbs you as it did me. And I hope it fuels you to challenge and to change the perceptions those around you hold of teacher librarians.

May your work have meaning, be relevant, and be visible. And may you stand as an example of what this profession can be and not affirm how it has been portrayed by the media.

You're worth more than Wikipedia.

Show them.


  1. Thanks for sharing this! I'm constantly baffled by the perception of some, that ours is an expendable position! When was the last time Wikipedia helped a student find the perfect book or planned and taught lessons based on state and national standards or analyzed and maintained a library collection based on the needs of the school or organized events and programs that get (and keep) kids excited about reading or... (fill in here all the other great things librarians do)! I will continue to fight the fight!

    1. Excellent points! Wikipedia is a tool. Librarians are the mechanics. Is Wikipedia ever the right tool for the job? Of course! It definitely has its place and is even become a more reliable source. However, much of our responsibility as teacher librarians is to help our students to use the tool effectively and to make sense of the information presented to them.

      Keep doing what you're doing, @LibraryLady! You matter to so many students!

  2. Oh Matthew!
    Thank you so much for this! I got this email, too! (same week, March 17th!) I thought it was a joke...and then I got mad! Like, if you see the kind of things I write about (and you, too!) why would you send it to us? This is exactly what we're fighting against...and they hand us the ammunition!?? Sheesh! But I was in the middle of MSA state testing and angrily pushed it aside!

    Thank goodness for you & Joyce to elucidate what I was thinking and feeling so succinctly and with both reason & passion!

    We matter. Libraries matter. Fancy infographics that distort data matter, too...if only to refute and to use as an object lesson.
    ~Gwyneth Jones
    The Daring Librarian

    1. It makes for good blog fodder, if nothing else big sis. But still... come on! Why would someone email this to us?! I even emailed her back stating my opinion and she said she was fine for me to post it... so I did. I know we all do an awful lot. I just hope that it's enough.

      Thank you for mattering, Gwyneth. You matter a whole lot to me as a friend and as a mentor. I know you matter a lot to hundreds of others (including kids, parents, colleagues, and library geeks).

      - M

  3. In a strange way, this infographic illustrates exactly why librarians DO matter in this age of instant, easy information. Finding information is so easy, distinguishing between accurate, up to date and reliable data and rubbish (like this), on the other hand, is much, much harder.

    Many people will see this infographic (and countless others) and swallow its charts, graphs and numerical assertions as gospel. Only those who have been taught (by a librarian, I dare say) to look at ALL INFORMATION with a critical eye will question its accuracy and ultimately find the truth.

    Librarians are in more than just the research business, but we represent the gold standard in helping our patrons (whether in the public or school arenas) navigate this information rich world. We matter. Now more than ever.

    Thanks so much for challenging this. God, I love a good rabble rouser!

    Fight on, friend!

    1. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts... but I'm thankful we've got such talent hands and feet moving our profession forward and keeping us relevant.

      Couldn't agree more at the danger of people taking this at face value and assuming it's the gospel truth. My! How often that happens!

      - M


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