After a long decline brought on by the ubiquity of the internet its increasing ability to retrieve quick bits of information or book recommendations, the library community is saddened to announce the passing of Marian the Librarian. For more than a century, Marian the Librarian served as the figurehead and standard barer of what a librarian was to the general population. She could frequently be found in a cardigan sweater pushing a book truck in the stacks; looking up obscure facts for individuals on the telephone; making book recommendations to readers; or leading children in a story time. Those that were closest to her reveal that Marian’s demise was slow in coming. Her dedication and vivacity never wavered, but her ability to adapt to changing technologies and information needs became increasingly insufficient as the 21st century rose around her.
Throughout her life she was a hero for the First Amendment and the literacy of her community. A stalwart opponent to censorship in all forms, she was not afraid to stand up to a whole community for what she believed was right. She introduced millions of people to the joys of stories and self-education. When she first came to prominence in the early 20th century it was rare for a woman who worked outside the home to rise to any kind of cultural prominence, but through her dedication to service she became an indispensable part of the American way of life. To this day, librarianship is a primarily “pink collar” profession in which women achieve a disproportionate amount of career success compared to their counterparts in other fields.
Marian is mourned by her offspring, too numerous to count. Marian left behind a legacy of thousands of women and men who followed in her footsteps who not only took up her mantle for freedom of speech and the promotion of literacy, but who also expanded upon those ideas. Women and men who expanded the definition of “literacy” to include knowledge of how to use a computer and judge the quality of information, rather than just the ability to read and understand the words. Modern librarians can answer simple factual queries and offer book recommendations, true, but they can also build web sites and mobile apps; edit photos and videos; create catalogs accessible to the whole world that are consistent and accurate; research complex topics; maintain complex software packages and the infrastructure needed to run them; provide shelter from strife and safety in crisis; act as community organizers and advocates for the under-served.
Years ago, there were those that said that libraries were obsolete, unnecessary, antiquated. Today, anyone who says this simply has never stepped into a library. Walk in to any public library on any given day and you will fine rows of computers filled with people too poor to purchase their own. You will find classrooms of many of these same people, and many other community members learning computer skills from the very basic to the relatively advanced. You will find free movie nights. You will find the latest releases on DVD or for your game consoles. You will find adults learning to read. Children receiving tutoring. Teenagers preparing for placement tests. Book mobiles will take books to neighborhoods where libraries are not easily accessible. Meeting rooms are being used by outside organizations. And yes, people are still checking out books to read.
What Marian has left behind is a robust tradition of service which will long outlast her. Her progeny will continue and propagate in her wake and will make the library into something that she would not recognize, but would be proud to have begun.
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