Posted by: bluesyemre | February 9, 2021

Libraries of the future? #EdgardoCivallero

Tianjin Binhai Library

It is already common for me to find, in professional networks, photo selections of glittering buildings displaying a modernist architecture, labeled “the libraries of the future”: multimillion-dollar investments in immense spaces, with dazzling aesthetics…

Are those the libraries of the future? Is that the future we want for our libraries?

In a world that has already exceeded a number of limits — including those of its finite resources — , where degrowth should be an obligation rather than an option, and where goods have increasingly high costs at all levels, we shouldn’t keep thinking about pharaonic buildings. Have we ever wondered what is left out when huge budgets are invested in these monstrous works? What projects are abandoned, what salaries are not being paid? What consequences do they have?

In a world where access to information continues to represent a huge problem for many, where digital divides continue to exist despite the wishful thinkers’ opinions — the Covid-19 put in front of our eyes a stark reality — and where public libraries receive less and less support or are just closed… do we really want investment to focus on those “palaces”?

Is that the model we support? The one we applaud? Is that what we decide to turn into a trending topic, what we make visible in our social media, what we celebrate in our professional papers, what we place as priority in our policies?

Have we ever wondered whom these libraries are for? (And I mean the real “for whom”, not the manipulated political speeches saying that they are “for everyone” when we all know this to be false). Have we wondered “what for”? Are they tourist attractions, a praise to the hegemonic powers, pawns on a yet-to-be-known international knowledge scenario, parts of a national exaltation speech… or libraries?

By putting on the front page these “white elephants”, these arrogant monuments to wastefulness, we downplay the hundreds and hundreds of small (and not so small) libraries that, one way or another, heroically resist all attacks, surviving despite everyone and despite everything. We make invisible those hundreds — or thousands — which are barely able to keep their doors open and which, in doing so, provide the basic foundations of literacy, reading and access to information throughout the world. Will those that are presented to us as the “libraries of the future” do that? Or will they just show off their magnificent walls to the herds of tourists who will visit them to take their selfies?

By clapping at these proposals we are celebrating, approving and giving wings to a savage capitalism that does not really care about opening doors to knowledge, but about the artificial monumentality of “more is better” and the exhibitionism of resources and wealth (in an impoverishing world ). We are blessing a technological model based on the rapture of natural resources, on programmed obsolescence, and on the generation of tons of e-waste. We are accepting and normalizing a consumerism that should already be alien to us or, at least, suspicious.

We let ourselves to be carried away by that silly admiration for what is “great” and “luxurious”, and we let ourselves to be infected by a longing for something that we will never have — because we cannot pay for it, or maintain it, and we probably don’t even need it. And, in that journey, we damage our vision of the world and our scale of values, we neglect our own success — those tailor-made, socially responsable projects adapted to local needs and possibilities — and we set unrealistic goals and expectations, giving importance to what is superfluous and taking it away from the truly relevant, valuable and innovative things.

Libraries of the future? I hope they are not. I do expect a libraries’ future to be more open, responsible, realistic, supportive and committed. And, above all, I expect libraries totally rooted in its territories and linked to the communities inhabiting them.

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