If there’s anyone who knows how to create beautiful visions through art and the written word, it’s Neil Gaiman. Author of books like Coraline, American Gods, Anansi Boys, and the Graveyard Book, Gaiman has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals.
In a speech to London’s Reading Agency on October 13, Gaiman gave a rousing lecture on the significance of libraries, which made this passionate reader well up, both with pride for what libraries accomplish, and indignance at those who would threaten libraries’ survival. He writes:
I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.
He touches on the correlations between an illiterate society and criminality. He touches on how reading inspires innovation, imagination, fantasy, and empathy. And most importantly to me, he poses libraries as the gateway to literacy and innovation, by their very nature of being the gateway to information. He conveys a fascinating statistic:
According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003.
And he notes, correctly, that libraries offer perhaps the only level playing field that offer a way to navigate through all that information.
We are not here to be storehouses of information. We are here to help users navigate the vast and exponentially growing world of information, so that they can become better citizens of the world.
Who could argue with that? Unfortunately, many do.
- See this story about the – so far, sadly, successful – attack on libraries in Kentucky;
- or this story about the ongoing threat – fortunately averted for now – to de-fund Miami-Dade public libraries;
- or this story about ongoing, devastating cuts to school libraries;
- or this all-too-common blog post about “the end of libraries” which shows a clear and vast misunderstanding of libraries in general, and, as another blogger remarks, expresses the shortsighted view that “if they do not use something, it has no value for anyone.”
I believe libraries are essential, but we have a real perception problem. We need to find ways to convince – that is, prove with data – that we are valuable and then find ways to shout that from the rooftops. Do you agree, and if so, do you have any ideas?