Britain may have talent – but its libraries are in danger, says Tara Brabazon

Libraries are the cranium of our culture and librarians are the custodians of knowledge, writes Tara Brabazon, professor of media studies at Brighton University in this week’s Times Higher.

But that knowledge is in danger as Google is increasingly used in the schools sector as a cheap replacement for library services, she claims. Professor Brabazon hit the headlines earlier this year when she called Google ‘white bread for the mind’; in this article, she goes further and attacks the use of Google and the internet by policy makers and others keen to make savings on apparently expendable library services.

‘We have accepted the metaphor of the internet being a library for a decade,’ she writes. ‘It was always an odd and incorrect affiliation, but we are now seeing the consequences of this metaphoric misalignment. If the internet is a library, then librarians are redundant.

‘“Reformers” have been endlessly disappointed by the behaviour of teachers and librarians who aim for efficiency in practice rather than a celebration of new media without context or application.’

The contribution of librarians to information literacy, particularly, she says, to the disadvantaged, is crucial, but so is it vital to ‘the development of informed citizenship’ and social justice which depends on ‘the availability of information to build knowledge and create informed decisions’, she suggests.

But the effects of all this are not confined to schools: ‘If a generation of students in primary and secondary schools, particularly in the state sector, are “managing” education without a properly funded library and the help of qualified librarians, then not only will literacy levels and examination results suffer, but so will our universities and workplaces. Without an ability to read, interpret and think, citizenship and democracy will be traded for consumerism and voting contestants off Britain’s Got Talent. We may discover some great singers, but we will “restructure” and lose committed and inspirational librarians.’

Citing the Google Generation report, she continues: ‘Google has not caused this disrespect for librarians. The key problem is “the Google effect”, where head teachers have assumed that a search engine will – intrinsically – teach students how to find, manage and interpret information. What we learnt from the study commissioned by the British Library and JISC and released in January this year about the Information behaviour of the researcher of the future, often called the Google generation report, was that “the information literacy of young people has not improved with the widening access to technology: in fact, their apparent facility with computers disguises some worrying problems”.

But, in spite of this strong attack on what Tara Brabazon sees as the steady devaluing of libraries, it isn’t, it seems, too late to ‘change our present for a better future.

‘Those of us who believe in education have one decade to respect and deploy currently employed librarians to train and shape the next generation.’

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