I've heard this phrase so many times, I'm starting to become disheartened. It goes something like this:
We don't need libraries because everything is free online.
This statement generally comes from upper-class white men, although some women have joined in the chorus, and I have yet to decide whether they are simply uninformed or speaking from willful ignorance. Some of these people probably haven't set foot inside a library since high school, which would explain a lot. They don't see modern libraries, because they have never used one. They don't realize that just as many patrons come to us for equipment as they do e-books. I mean, let's face it, e-books are rather useless unless you have something to read them on. Modern libraries check out e-readers and maintain databases that lend e-books and e-journals. Furthermore, we teach patrons how to use these resources.
However, the "free online" people don't seem to realize this. Faulty conclusions are drawn when they see something online and automatically assume that the resource is free.
Instead of sounding intelligent and urbane, these people come across as uniformed and obtuse. If the individual is a politician, education administrator, trustee, or school board member, he (or she) sounds insensitive to the people that he represents.
There is no free Internet. I have to pay for Internet services, and so do you. This fee comes in my phone bill. If you are one of these "everything online is free" people, run go look at your phone bill. I'll wait.
Is there a line for Internet serivces? If you have Internet at home, I'm sure there is, and I'll bet it is a hefty little fee too. That means that your Internet connection is not free, therefore, you are paying for the information that you retrieve online.
Just because an individual can open a web browser and click a link, does not make the information free unless the person's sole source of information is coming from Wikipedia, which would explain an awful lot to me. Anyone who cares about the quality of information knows that in order to download "free" articles he or she must either be at a library that pays for subscription to a database, or offer up a credit card number in order to purchase the article.
When tax dollars or tuition keep a library open, that is not "free."
"Free" does not exist. Nothing online is "free."
Staff is needed because the information is useless unless someone knows how to access it. All databases are not created equal, nor are all databases user-friendly. I can't tell you the number of times that I've had students and/or their parents thank us for being there to help them successfully navigate the online services that our college provides. On more than one occasion, people have said that they could not have attended school without the library's services, none of which, I might remind you, are free.
However, I still hear and read in blog posts the fallacy that libraries are unimportant because "everything online is free." It becomes a mantra for some bloggers, politicians, and administrators. Saying it over and over again does not make it true.
Unfortunately, no matter how often the library staff points out their usefulness with statistics and testimonials from their patrons, people persist in the myth of "free online."
So from now on, I am no longer wasting my breath explaining why libraries are important, or how we help students achieve success. When someone remarks that libraries are archaic institutions because everything is free online, I have only one question:
WHERE IS ALL THIS FREE ONLINE STUFF?
If "FREE ONLINE" exists, I want it! If you can't point me to "free online," meaning free Internet access and free scholarly articles, then don't go around saying that everything online is free. Either tell me how to cash in on all this "free online" or shut up.
Otherwise, those of us who know better will think that you are stupid.