I was having a discussion the other day about the digital books movement and saving a university money, and when I took the next logical step in the argument:  “If we’re digitizing books to save space and money, why don’t we digitize librarians, too?”  I was given a look in response  intended to freeze fertile fields and euthanize rabid dogs.

“How could you even say that?”

I answered, “If we don’t need libraries filled with paper books, why do we need a person to help us find stuff when we have the Google?”

“You’re removing the human from the experience of reading.”

I tried not to laugh at this person who was in favor of digitizing book to save money, but not digitizing the librarian to save even more money.  “Isn’t the human moment between the reader and the author and not the reader and the librarian?  Isn’t it the librarian’s job to remain passive and invisible and to point without telling?”

“No,” was the reply, “You don’t understand.  We need the human touch in a library.  A library cannot be just a room with computers.  You need the physical, human, hand there to guide you.”

“But instead of having hundreds of copies of the same book all over the world, we only really need one digital copy.  We could do the same for the librarian:  Find the best one, “computerize” the job and we’d have one, single, digital librarian to serve us all.  Think of all the health benefits universities would save by removing both the paper AND the human.”

I was told I was disgusting as my conversation friend walked away.

I slightly yelled after her, “Hey!  Why have a library at all at the university?  We’ll let the IT people take over the stacks to install more super computers and WiMax and stuff and instead of reading anything, we’ll just watch streaming video on the internet!  We can replace book authors with MTV!”


  1. A very interesting proposition David…
    I don’t remember asking for any human help/ guidance in any of the school libraries till date till the point of checking the materials out – the first induction session before the beginning of the classes from a walking, talking librarian was very helpful though!
    I also saw a self check out facility for a limited number of books and periodicals in one or two libraries without any human help, I don’t remember whether it was in V-Tech or in Univ of St. Thomas but it was there.
    I think the way we are going we will do away with the concept of a brick and mortar library one day…

  2. When I worked at the help desk at the library, I found that most of the questions that I was asked could not be easily answered by Google. As a human, I can tell immediately which things are relevant to what a person wants significantly better than all the filters that Google can conjure. 🙂
    I know this to be so because I have done image searches countless times and seen things that are completely irrelevant to what I am trying to find 🙂
    Also, nobody wants directions to the bathroom from a computer 🙂

  3. I do think all university libraries will soon just be “the internet” and those current campus libraries will have to be repurposed — but not as classrooms — since all classes will be held online.

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