Friday, January 29, 2016

Now not only angels have wings


I just overheard a librarian talking excitedly about a TV show, which is maybe a bad sign to begin with. She was referring to a small line from a character, and she said the line would warm any librarian's heart. The character, the librarian said, shows off a bit of useful, obscure knowledge and says "I'm old school, pre-Google."

Later that same night a librarian was looking for an old map our library system hasn't printed for at least twelve years. It showed a chart that revealed the distance between all of our branches. She wanted to know the distance between our branch and another. I briefly waxed nostalgic over those ancient distance grid maps I haven't seen in a decade, but then I walked over to one of our readily available computers and entered a few small pieces of information. "Eleven point two miles" I said. If she wanted to I could have given it to her in strict geographic distance, and I could also have told her in Sanskrit (११.२ मिलेस ).

There are so many, many things I dislike about the Internet, so many things wrong with it, and certainly I could spend the rest of my blog life exploring those horrible failures of our powers, imagination, and technology. But as far as the Internet taking away the bulky, obtuse project of looking up blunt information, as far as the Internet's ability as a reference tool, as far as the Internet making the research skills of a brilliantly trained 1950s style librarian, one with vast shelves of reference books at their command, available to pretty much anyone, anywhere, with the simplest of Internet connected devices and very modest Internet search skills, I cannot even imagine a valid complaint against it.


Twenty years ago a patron could have come to me at the front desk of the library and asked "You know in that old Richard Barthelmess movie about the freight company, what did Bonnie Lee's dad used to do?" 

And I would have said "They can help you with that at the reference desk."

Today if someone came and asked me "You know in that old Richard Barthelmess movie about the freight company, what did Bonnie Lee's dad used to do?"

 I would look it up in three seconds and say "He was a trapeze artist without a net." 

"Oh yeah." They would say. "I thought it was something dangerous like that. What was the name of that port they worked out of again?"

"Barranca." I would easily answer.

"Do you have a DVD of the movie?"

Three second search. "Unfortunately ours is out." I say. "I hate that. Shall I put it on hold for you? It should be here in a couple days."

"Okay, that would be great. One more thing." They would hesitate for a bit. "How do you cure Liver Cancer."

And I would reply "They can help you with that at the Reference desk upstairs." 

Enough is enough.

"Oh." They would say. "Upstairs?" 

No one seems to like to go upstairs unless they have to. 

"Never mind then." They say sadly. "Thanks for the help anyway."

And then I'd feel bad for them, so I'd cure their liver cancer anyway, with my Internet, new school.

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