Learn to Love the Library Again

4 min read
14 February 2019

A recent article in Forbes stated that local libraries should close and be replaced with Amazon. Written by an economics professor, the author suggested that libraries are obsolete because of technology. The piece has since been removed from Forbes’ website, but it’s heartening to see that people stood up and said, “NO!” to this idea.1

Public libraries exist around the world, and they are valued resources for the people who live around them. Modern libraries have evolved from the libraries of old, and libraries have an incredible and vibrant history.

Libraries In The Old World

People didn’t formally differentiate between libraries and archives (or record rooms) in the old days. Clay tablets have been found dating back to the 3rd millennium BC written by ancient Babylonians. Unfortunately, many collections were destroyed in wars or during turbulent political times. Chinese historical records were ordered to be destroyed by emperor Shih Huang-ti, so his version of history would be remembered.

Many Greek temples accumulated written records and books, with Athens being a stronghold for schools of thought and philosophy, dating back to the 4th century BC. Aristotle’s collection at the Peripatetic school was organised with the intent to be a source of scientific knowledge.

Perhaps the most famous of all the libraries in history is the great library in Alexandria. Supposedly it contained hundreds of thousands of scrolls and original works, but the collection was lost. History blames Julius Caesar and his men.2

Modern Libraries Offer More Than Ever Before

Libraries have long fueled the fires of innovation and creativity. Curious minds of all ages can visit a library to seek answers--and more questions! Modern libraries offer more than books, however.

To build up a library is to create a life. It’s never just a random collection of books.

Carlos María Domínguez

 Libraries vary around the globe, but a sampling of what is available includes:

  • Australia.3 The Australian Public Library Alliance contributes to many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including good health and well-being, quality education, and reduced inequalities. Most public libraries in Australia offer many resources, such as:
        • Reading and literacy
        • Cybersafety
        • STEM agenda
        • Future thinking
        • Lobbying
  • Mexico.4 Public libraries provide information and services within a peaceful context that supports inclusion, diversity, and liberty. An important part of Mexican culture, libraries provide support for people no matter their economic class, gender, or religion. Other facts about libraries in Mexico include:5
        • Every town with at least 5000 people has its own library
        • Mexico has developed the largest library system in Latin America
        • Many libraries have rare collections. The Public Library in Jalisco has thousands of books that are around 500 years old
        • Literacy in Mexico is approximately 91.4% as of the 2010 Census
        • Initiatives have been implemented to bring digital technologies to rural areas
  • United States.6 There are over 17000 libraries in the United States, and public libraries provide resources for many people. One major aspect is Internet access. Many aspects of modern life require broadband access, and with an ever increasing wealth gap, the poor need libraries more than ever. In the Chicago Public Library System:
        • 74 locations serve the community
        • Nearly 10 million items were checked out in 2009
        • Almost 4 million free Internet hours were used in 2009
        • 60% of people using the Internet were searching and applying for work

Curiosity And The Brain

An innovative brain is a creative brain, and both are required to be an authentic, effective leader. People tend to learn and recall new information better when they are curious about it. Libraries give people the chance to discover new thoughts and new ideas, even those with extremely limited means.

When curiosity is aroused, the limbic reward system hops into action. This process has been shown using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with a memory test on volunteers. The hippocampus, which helps us create memories, is part of the limbic system. Scientists found increased activity in the hippocampus using fMRI when the volunteers experienced heightened curiosity.7

Bringing Curiosity Into Leadership

Just as libraries contain millions of stories, both fiction and non-fiction, your leadership journey is also a tale. You can seize the opportunity to enrich your own story with innovation and curiosity by reflecting on aspects of your leadership story. Leaders who invest in libraries as important public resources will continue to protect access for all, but especially for those less fortunate.

1. Ingraham C. Economics professor suggested replacing public libraries with Amazon. It didn’t go over well. Chicago Tribune. 24 July 2018. Available at: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-forbes-amazon-libraries-20180724-story.html#
2.Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. The History of Libraries. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 2018. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/library/The-history-of-libraries
3. Australian Public Library Alliance. Public Library. Australian Library and Information Association. 2018. Available at: https://www.alia.org.au/node/184/public-libraries
4. Pacheco FH, Escamilla DQ. Human resources in Mexican public libraries: An exploratory inquiry. Investigación Bibliotecológica: Archivonomía, Bibliotecología e Información. 2016;20(68), 17-50.
5. Joseph. The Current State of Libraries in Mexico: Service, Connectivity and Culture. Careerlibrarian.com. 17 June 2012. Available at: http://careerlibrarian.com/lis-blog/the-current-state-of-libraries-in-mexico-service-connectivity-and-culture
6. Lawson RB. The Role of the Public Library in Today’s World. I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society. 2016;13(1), 29-45. Available at: http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/students/groups/is/files/2017/08/Lawson.pdf
7. Gruber MJ, Gelman BD, Ranganath C. States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit. Neuron. 2014;84(2), 486-496.

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