CRF Blog

Lines of Spines

by Bill Hayes

In Lines of Spines for The Smart Set, Tim Gorichanaz examines what purpose libraries serve in today’s world.

It’s no secret that libraries are struggling. Funding is down in many public library systems across the country as the public no longer has much use for centralized storehouses of books. People say things like, “Why do we need libraries anymore when we’ve got Google?” Even the academic discipline dedicated to studying libraries seems to be backing away: A century ago, it was called library science; after World War II, it became better known as library and information science; over the past few decades, it’s been sloughing the L word (and often picking up words like computer and data). At my institution, for instance, the School of Library and Information Science was renamed to the College of Information Studies in 1985 — and today it’s the College of Computing and Informatics. Today, it houses a much wider range of degree programs than in previous decades, threatening to obfuscate the fact that the master’s of library and information science program is still one of the college’s core offerings.

But libraries are still important, and that’s because they are not fundamentally storehouses for books — despite the name and our longstanding cultural assumptions. We can begin to see this in the example of Kafka on the Shore, if we look beyond the surface. It’s not just that Kafka wound up in the library because he liked books. He wound up in the library because he had no other home, and the library provided a free, safe space. [more]