Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight!

by Christine Anne George

Ages ago, otherwise known as February 2016, I wrote a post-binge post on Making a Murderer. Among other things, I mentioned how the show created a teachable moment where people (hopefully) learned about the limits of the presidential pardoning power. When news broke on November 14 that Brendan Dassey was going to be released to await the appeals process only to be—spoiler alert—reversed by an appellate court, I thought back to that post and teachable moments. Given everything that has been going on in the country and the question about the public’s ability to discern real news from fake, it seems like there’s more of a call than ever for teachable moments with information and media literacy. That thought led me to something that’s been on a low simmer in the back of my mind for a while. Yup, that’s right. Amidst all the thoughts of season 2 of Making a Murderer (It has to happen, right? And what about Serial?) and reeling from the election, I did not for a second forget about Greta Van Susteren. Vanity projects indeed. Greta, this teachable moment is for you.

I’m fairly embarrassed to admit that I’ve only become acquainted with Bunny Watson over the course of the past year. Awash in the fervor of the newly converted, I believe that everyone who goes into librarianship should know of Bunny Watson. She’s smart, quick-witted, and the best librarian out there, bar none. I also think we could be best friends, but there is the slight issue of her being a fictional character. For those who are not familiar with the 1957 classic Desk Set, I highly recommend opening another window and streaming it immediately because there are spoilers ahead. Also I’m pretty sure you would enjoy it.

desk-setBunny runs the Reference Department at the Federal Broadcasting Company. She and her fellow librarians are wary when Richard Sumner stumbles onto the scene. There’s about an hour’s worth of office shenanigans and then our intrepid heroine and company discover Sumner’s electronic brain, EMERAC, is going to take over the Reference Department. Bunny and her staff receive their pink slips and watch at EMERAC and its minder, Miss Warriner, struggle with reference requests. But wait. After an incorrect command to gather information on Corfu, EMERAC begins to spit out the poem “Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight,” Bunny and her team are able to prove that there ain’t nothing like the real thing. But wait. In yet another twist, we find that EMERAC was never meant to replace the reference librarians, but rather to assist them. After an incident in which everyone in the building is accidentally fired, we end on a happy note with librarian and machine facing a happy future together. Also Hepburn and Tracy.

The struggle between librarian and technology is real, but the situation is a lot more nuanced than saying that librarians and technology are at odds. We go together. (Like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.) Yes, there can be entire libraries available on smart phones, but guess what makes them available. Libraries. And guess who makes them navigable. Yup, librarians. Even the free stuff is there because of the efforts of libraries and librarians—both academic and local. In a time where more and more students are having difficulty navigating truth from lies or bogus stories, librarians and libraries—even the ones sans books and chock full of the latest technology—are needed more than ever.

Earlier this month, fellow RIPS blogger Paul Gatz wrote about the service aspect of librarianship and how librarians are “at the nexus between the system and the user, benefiting one no less than the other.” A huge part of our service is to connect patrons to information, and not just any information, but relevant and accurate information. We are the navigators, we are the beacons, we are the silent, mostly unacknowledged, partners in research. Take away the librarians, strip down the libraries, and there will be consequences. Maybe not 80 stanzas worth of them, but consequences none the less. We are in the day and age where finding information isn’t a problem—it’s the next step that matters. No matter what you type into a search box, you’re bound to find an answer. Is it the correct answer? Is it the best possible answer? The fact that so many aren’t able to determine that shows that what some mistakenly classify as vanity is actually a necessity. This is not the time to follow the lead of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to print the legend. When the people don’t know what’s fact from fiction, Gotham is in trouble and Commissioner Gordon’s got to light up the book signal to bring in the librarians.

Now, more than ever, what we do, what we teach, matters. The collections we cultivate, the search tips we provide, it all matters. So, in response to Greta’s unfortunate comment, I say in my best Hepburn impression (which alas isn’t very good), “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

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This entry was posted in Current Events, Information Literacy, Issues in Librarianship (generally) and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight!

  1. Scott Frey says:

    Excellent post! I’ve been thinking a lot since the election about the roles of libraries and information professionals in a “post-truth” era. But I hadn’t considered these issues in the context of “librarian versus computer” — or librarian assisted by computer. (The source of the information on the computer might be another computer or a person. Ether way, the source and the information may or may not be reliable. The well-trained Bunny Watson can help sort it out. 🙂 ) This framing is useful, at least to me.

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