There has been a little flurry of interest around the concept of the unlibrary of late, both on Twitter and in the blogosphere, following the launch of an unlibrary in London. (See also 4th paragraph from end and comments on this recent post by Jo Alcock.)
The actual concept of an unlibrary – a dedicated space within the library building in which people can interact, engage with web stuff, use the facilities in a non-traditional way – is fab. As is having unlibrarians to assist/support/mediate. So why is my gut reaction to this a rather negative one?
Taking another ‘un’ format as an exemplar, unconferences allow organisers to do something a bit different, they don’t seem detract from the standard conference concept, but rather give additional scope, choice and opportunities to fit medium to content in the most appropriate way for the subject and/or audience, so surely the same kind of relationship ought to be able to develop between the library and the unlibrary.
Perhaps I’m being over-defensive, but with all the talk around cutting libraries at the moment I must say that it feels to me like the unlibrary concept could well backfire if it gets adopted as further ammunition in the “conventional libraries are irrelevant to the Google generation” argument. Also, the two unlibrarians running the service in Crouch End are not librarians but are rather described as experts on social media and the future of the book in the digital age, which also makes me a little wary. Both of these things are clearly enormously valuable in almost any library setting (let alone an unlibrary one), and are perhaps indicative of skills all librarians should possess, but in an atmosphere of threats to library and information professionals I smell potential danger here as well.
However, I can also see unlibraries (equipped with their unlibrarians) as a great opportunity to add really useful services to the range of things libraries can offer (not to mention a tool for the promotion of existing electronic resources, and library spaces), and a helpful counterbalance to the “libraries are just about books” school of thought – thereby allowing libraries to attract different types of people, especially some of those who currently may not think their library has anything to offer them. I realise that many libraries already offer these kind of services, but maybe repackaging them as unlibraries might encourage more people to take notice of them.
Also, perhaps it’s just me, but doesn’t the term unlibrary sound kind of cool, a bit mysterious, maybe even a little bit sexy?! Perhaps a change of name might serve to dispel a few fusty dusty stereotypes, and bring the concept of libraries into the 21st century once and for all.
I’m still a little bit conflicted about this, and would love to hear what you think…
6 Comments so far
Leave a comment