Are libraries just about books? : The danger of a single story.

I was browsing through TED talks and came across this playlist: “New to TED? (11 talks)” which is a list of 11 top talks showing the range of topics covered by TED.

I really enjoyed the talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called: “The danger of a single story.”

Now I know that in her talk, she was discussing both cultural differences in story books and stereotypes, but I think the points she was making really contribute to the stereotype of the library debate that continues to rage today.

Chimamanda says: “The single story creates stereotypes. The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” [13:14-13:27] I think the stereotype of libraries being all about books is a single story and one that puts libraries in danger.

This is demonstrated by David Oddie, a Marlborough District Councillor, who wryly commented that: “it would be cheaper to buy every resident signed up to the library a Kindle and rely on e-books, rather than operate a traditional library system.” Click here to read more. The reason that he thought he was justified in making this comment is that he believed (wrongly, in my opinion) that all the library offers is books.

Now don’t get me wrong – libraries do offer books and they are a big part of what libraries are about. I also love books and think it is a really positive association. But books are not the only aspect of libraries. It is fantastic to hear people reminiscing about their childhood experiences of libraries and how they enjoyed running down the road and coming back with a wagon-load of books. But if these are the only stories we hear about libraries, I think we are in danger of being out-of-touch and redundant in today’s information society.

The solution to the ‘problem’ of the library stereotype is not to try to get rid of books entirely, and say that libraries all all about tech, content, or community. The library is about all these things – and more! I believe the solution is to share more stories about different aspects of libraries. This issue is also being addressed by LIANZA’s #brandlibraries project which helps to tell more multifaceted stories of libraries and focuses on building a library brand.

We need more stories like these to show the versatility of libraries:

Would you agree? How do you think we can do better as librarians and libraries with sharing our stories?

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9 thoughts on “Are libraries just about books? : The danger of a single story.

  1. Yes yes yes!! You nailed it Abigail. At Conference last year someone, pretty sure it was Karen Schneider, talked about needing to market ourselves and ‘xxx’ AND the book. Totally resonates for me.

  2. A great post, well done! Sharing stories is about making connections with the community the library serves. Libraries need to be responsive to their communities and partner with them to help them thrive. Sharing stories is not about sharing the message about different aspects of the library, but sharing stories about how the library relates to the community it serves.

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  4. Brilliant Abigail, a great post . Libraries need to be responsive to their communities and partner with them to help them survive and reminder about what libraries are.

  5. Also think the curating role comes in here …. this is how we can take or Library skills and resources into other spaces to engage with our communities and embed our content /services where the people are. Following on from a question raised in the 2nd Twitter chat, this is a way I see we can get into the MOOC space for example.

    In our recent Library week blogathon around the “share your stories” theme it took constant gentle prompting to get our staff and students thinking big picture for stories and including movies, tv shows etc etc. A great way to break down some Library stereotypes, but the common response was we were after books only.

    Enjoying your posts. Keep them coming! πŸ˜€ Rob

    • That’s a great point about the curation aspect and the community focus πŸ™‚ so much good stuff that is happening out there in Library Land!

      Thank you for your lovely comment – I’m glad you are enjoying the posts too πŸ™‚

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