Re: Bill Maher on Libraries

graffiti of Bill Maher and Real Time

Image cc license through Flickr user wallyg

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” — unknown

“If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, and it hits a mime, does anyone care?” — Gary Larson, The Complete Farside 1980-1994

If a TV show host and political commentator states that libraries are irrelevant, that no one needs or uses them, should we freak out, disregard him as ignorant, or take a different tack?

Like a few other bloggers who have weighed in on the discussion, I did not see the 14 October 2011 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher when it was originally aired;  I was directed to a snippet on YouTube after the initial furor.  In fact, I’m not sure I have ever seen anything featuring Bill Maher. However, I have seen enough late-night television and political talking heads to understand that sometimes, commentators and comedians will express ideas they do not truly endorse, just to generate a response, positive or negative.  If this is not the case, if indeed Bill Maher does believe what he says, he is not likely to be the only one who holds this opinion: that, as we have the Internet, we no longer need libraries.

For those curious to read some of the discussion, one could start with the episode itself or the segment under discussion.  In response, there is a thread on the Autocat listserv at Syracuse University, another post by David Rothman at the blog Library City, an article by Teri Markson at Huffington Post, and an article by Steve Lopez at the LA Times. 

I am inclined to agree with the point of view expressed by James Weinheimer in his post on the subject at First Thus, “Re: Bill Maher on Libraries”: there is still a widespread assumption on the part of librarians and steadfast supporters that libraries are still important, but for various reasons, this opinion is not held by everyone.

I have heard Bill Maher’s comment from the mouths of others, in different iterations, both before and since the episode aired. I have heard it at social events, I have heard it in response to learning that I am a librarian, and I have heard it from library patrons from various backgrounds, including students, diplomats, and researchers.  Every time I hear it, I have to fight down my immediate response to shout, “No! We still need libraries! Libraries are important!”

Instead I try to remember all those blogposts that sprang up about library elevator speeches. What do I do as a librarian? I will spare you the mundane list of day to day activities and say instead that I make information retrievable, I help people learn to more efficiently find the information, data, research, or contacts they need.  The Internet provides the information, but I provide the value added.

Some posts on Library Elevator Speeches include:

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