Anne Lagacé Dowson's "From Gutenberg to the Internet – The Library Today"

Imageby Julie-Anne Cardella

Anne Lagacé Dowson is an award-winning radio journalist. She holds a master’s degree in Canadian studies and champions culture, especially literacy and books, in both English and French.

Anne began her presentation by giving a little history on how she became an avid reader and an aficionado of libraries. As a child, she recalls that her parents would send her and her siblings off to the library on weekends. She now realizes how fortunate she was because this allowed her to discover the power of reading. The library quickly became for her a refuge, a wonderful place to learn how to grow up.

She states that libraries are incredibly important to people like her coming from a working class family. They allow them to elevate themselves later in life. Plus, they are staffed with some of the most helpful people: librarians.

She spoke briefly about the library of her childhood which is now the George H. Locke Memorial Branch of the Toronto Public Library. It was named after George Herbert Locke, who was the chief librarian of the Toronto Public Library from 1908 until his death in 1937, a time of great expansion in that library system. He was the first Canadian to be President of the American Library Association. He was avant-garde by promoting unusual agendas. He brought in materials in languages other than English, started storytime programs, and defended the right for fiction to be included in a public library’s collection.

But libraries are now under siege and in danger of becoming less relevant because of technology. The printed word is coming to us in different formats and faced with this phenomenon, librarians and journalists need to “get with the program.”

She referred to an article by Adam Gopnik entitled “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us” that was published last February in the New Yorker. In his article, Gopnik states that there are three categories of people vis-à-vis technology: the Never- Betters, the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers. Anne believes that we all have a little bit of all three categories and we need to get those systems up and running in defense of the library.

After questioning the attendees about their use of different social media tools, she gave out some impressive statistics about the general use of social media for research purposes. These statistics clearly indicate that the connection between the library and social media is a very close one. She therefore recommends that librarians promote their services using social media.

Anne also believes that the library as a space has to exist for things to happen and that no machine or algorithm is going to replace good judgment and analysis offered by librarians. This is a moment of tremendous opportunity for libraries and librarians but it can also be terrifying. She insists that we keep the flame burning by catching people’s attention with innovative programming such as bar service at social events or integrating outdoor reading gardens to our libraries.

ImageLibraries are more and more considered as a “town square,” and librarians need to seize this opportunity to market their profession. To add to this, Anne recommended a book called: This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson. This book is about the vital importance of librarians in the cyber age.

She ended her talk by stating that librarians had her admiration and support and that she would act upon this statement by inviting Eva Raby, recipient of the Anne Galler Award, on her CJAD Saturday afternoon show.

She closed with this quote by a character in The Callahan Touch by science fiction writer Spider Robinson: “Librarians are the secret masters of the universe. They control information. Never piss one off.”

Anne delivered a very entertaining and inspiring speech. Her message that we need more charismatic and forward-looking librarians was cheerfully applauded by all.