Partial Transcript: Episode 37 (Libraries with David Lankes)

Virginia: Today we are talking to David Lankes.  Thanks for being here!

David: It’s great to be here.  Thanks so much for having me.

Virginia: Before we get started, I have to tell you.  You spoke about two years ago at the Dallas Public Library.  I don’t know if you remember that.

David: I do.

Virginia: I was sitting in the back of the room, and I have to say that you are one of the best public speakers that I have ever seen.

David: Thank you.  I appreciate that.

Virginia: I basically spent the whole time riveted to what you were saying.  Then I realized that I didn’t really agree with all of your points, but I liked what you were saying so much that I was enthralled.

David: That’s my plan.  I want to be so enthralling that no one actually pays attention.  It worked perfectly!

Virginia:  Can you tell the listeners a little about yourself?

David: Sure.  I’m a professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies.  I teach library and information science.  Most of what I do is study and prepare librarians for going out into the world and helping folks like you.

Nick: Wow.  That was really succinct and to the point.

Virginia: I’m telling you guys.  He’s really great.  I should tell you the second story about the speech that you gave.  I remember this because I actually took notes on it.  This women raised her hand.  She said, “Can I get a tape of this recording?”  You said, “I’m recording it right now, and it will be on YouTube tomorrow.”  She didn’t really understand what you were saying.  She was much older (as was most of the audience).  So, she asked again for a tape.  At that point, you told her to talk to whoever it was that was running the show.  To me, it was a symbolic event.  The people who are donating to libraries and don’t really understand digital technology.  I’m wondering if  I was correct in that assumption.

David: I think it’s fair to say that in some settings, that’s true.  A lot of times in public libraries (there are different kinds of libraries), when you look at the people who are running boards or friends organizations, it’s the same demographic that are running any governmental or charitable organization.  They tend to be people who are pretty successful but also have a lot of time on their hands.  They tend to be older.  You look at the boards of just about anything, and you’re going to find folks who are of a particular generation.  I have to say: Where it works really well is when librarians and directors of libraries really bring the group along.  They educate themselves, and the librarians help them education themselves on new technologies.  So, it’s partly generational.  A lot of it also is attitudinal.  The library can be a safe, quiet place.  Or “This is what it used to be.”  A lot of my work and the work of really great librarians is to expose people to other opportunities.

Nick: Ok, so this is where our discussion usually goes south.  Virginia wants that idea to not be named a library anymore.  As soon as you pull it out of shelves of books (meeting spaces, computers, etc), she wants it to be called a community center.

Virginia: My thesis is that a library is a place where you access knowledge.  Libraries have become sort of community centers in terms of all the activities and whatnot.  I think it’s semantic, mainly.  I don’t have a problem with computers.  I think computers are great.

David: That’s not actually where you need to start.  You need to start with how you define “knowledge.”  I know that sounds very esoteric, and I apologize.  But, if you stick with me for a minute…  If I hand you a book, and it’s written in Mandarin Chinese, does that count as knowledge?  It’s in a book form.  Books are containers, and they help you build knowledge.  But,  knowledge is a uniquely human thing.  It’s in your head.  It’s in my head.  There’s lots of ways to get at it.  You have reading, conversation (when you’re reading, you’re having a conversation with yourself), going to school, all these things.  So, whether it’s from a book, computer, or the guy next to you, that’s accessing knowledge.

Virginia: How does the government’s role of putting aside money for a library fit into that idea?

David: Now that’s a great question.  Community center… University… whatever.  To me, what makes a library is not what’s in it or even what it does.  It’s the people who run it and the intention behind it.  It’s the librarians that make it a library.  You get a big warehouse full of books or one of those fabulous book sales where they find some burned out Borders, and it doesn’t feel like a library.  It feels like a rummage sale.  Instead, it’s having someone in there that’s orchestrating, organizing, making sense, and bringing people up to speed.  Your question is brilliant, which is: why does the public have to pay for that?

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