HuffPo: Helping or Hurting?

21/11/2011 § 12 Comments

I’ve always been a fan of the Huffington Post. It’s been a great resource for (liberal) news and staying on top of viral videos. That’s why I was initially excited when I heard that the site started a page dedicated to librarians. Until I clicked over. Go ahead, check it out but come right back…

…personally, my excitement quickly turned to  frustration. This site feels overly sensationalized. Yes, libraries are fighting an uphill battle in terms of funding and many libraries are facing many barriers to staying open. But calling the site “Libraries in Crisis” makes it sound like the whole industry is doomed. Which it’s not.

The stories featured on this site seem to fit two molds: profiles featuring libraries that are on the verge of closure or tales of the incredible effort of communities who gather donations or signatures to keep the library open (with a good mix of literary celebrities adding their voice to the cause) . It’s wonderful that libraries who need help are getting their stories out and tales of success are being shared. But this site provides too narrow a view of what is really happening. We live in a time where many libraries are adapting and providing innovative resources and services for their patrons, and thus thriving. Where are those stories? Why when I read over the Huffington Post’s page all I feel is sense of panic?

I was speaking with fellow library student Alyssa Vincent (and previous guest poster here at HLS), who made a great point comparing this page to HuffPo’s book page. Even though we are seeing radical changes to the publishing industry, including the closing of bookstores across the country, we’re not seeing alarms going off or stories that only focus on the book store closures. Why does this have to be a “libraries-in-crisis” page and not just a “library” page?

Over at The M Word, author Kathy Dempsey brings up a great point: that the stories featured on this page are an excellent starting point for discussions. We can read the comments to see what patrons are saying, what they want from their libraries and why they visit or don’t visit their local library. She advocates that we don’t sit on the sidelines but become active participants in the discussion. I couldn’t agree more. I think that this is an excellent opportunity to try to shift the public perception of what our libraries offer.

I hope that this page has a long shelf life on the Huffington Post, but only if it evolves. I understand that stories of library closures are much sexier than the latest controversies with Overdrive, but if we want to see the libraries as a national tradition continue, we need to step away from the extremism and start proving what we are capable of. Let’s see some library success stories on this page, too.

But this is just one librarian’s opinion. Maybe I’m off base. Maybe this is exactly what the public needs to see to get them more interested in caring about their library. Please share you thoughts, we’d love to know what you think!

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§ 12 Responses to HuffPo: Helping or Hurting?

  • juliaskinner says:

    I feel like this ties into a larger trend in news to sensationalize everything and work everyone into a tizzy. A lot of the issues are real, pressing, vital issues just like you said, but I agree that there has to be a more realistic and hopeful way to approach these discussions. Even if HuffPo did something where they interspersed stories about library innovations and such throughout the stories of drama that would be helpful. it’s wonderful that attention is being paid to this issue, but there are so many pieces missing!

  • I’d like to encourage readers to read the piece that originated the Libraries in Crisis section, written by Andrew Losowsky, the HuffPo Books Editor. He states, “We’ll be looking at how today’s libraries are about more than books. We’ll show how they can be a community resource where reliable information and guidance is provided, free of bias and commercial influence.” If we feel that they are not living up to that claim, let them know in comments!

    Also, it seems strange to me that the fancy little sidebar with ‘commentary’ articles does not feature one single librarian, and that all the profiled folks on the page are authors and/or politicians. Hey, HuffPo, if you wanted to start a page about us, how about actually including a librarians voice! I vote for Turner to become a writer over there.

    • You’re making me blush, Micah. I certainly plan on examining these articles and trying to get my voice heard.

      I agree, I was surprised that there were not stories or editorial piece that were written by librarians. I hope that we’ll see some in the future!

    • Britt Foster says:

      I was very struck by the final line in the intro post by Losowsky: “The time has come for libraries to speak up.” I’m aware that this is a rhetorical device, but I think it really strikes at a huge problem in library advocacy: agitating for services and symbols without equally doing so for librarians, when the former would be impossible to achieve without the latter.
      Thanks for this awesome post, Turner.

  • I don’t know where to begin; the sensationalism is blatant and makes me very wary of the content on the page, which I have yet to peruse in depth. From the sad book graphic with the book falling over (tear!) to “Why Librarians Should Be More Like Lady Gaga” to the library sign advertising “restrooms and ideas” (was this made using a sign generator software or is it legit?) I am immediately uncomfortable with the underlying premise and journalistic angle for what appears to be most of the content on the site – as evidenced by the pithy “Libraries In Crisis.”

    While I have not read the content in depth, I will have my media literacy fine tooth comb with me while reading this page because the fixation on crisis doesn’t make me a trusting reader. The reason I avoid most major news media outlets is because I like to think for myself, without hype and soundbites and fear-inducing graphics getting in the way of facts. The entire page screams, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It’s hard to to read content when the presentation raises so many red flags.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Elizabeth! I agree, major news outlets love to sensationalize what’s really going on – it’s how they get their readers. I think that is a major reason why our current political landscape is so vitriolic. I guess I should I have been expecting this when I first viewed the page.

  • I’ll take a look at the HuffPo link, but the news tends to sensationalize everything, especially when it’s negative.

  • I’ve always found the HuffPo kind of trashy (their acquisition of personal-favorite blot PostBourgie aside), and this lives up to that very low expectation. Frankly the comments there are such a cesspool that I have my doubts its even possible to have a constructive discussion there, though I commend Micah for trying.

  • Ian Anstice says:

    We suffer from a major lack of library advocacy in the UK. Well, we did. I like to think we don’t now. The Voices for the Library website (http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/) was set up last year by several people who decided to do something about it and push positive stories. I’m now proud to be a member of this group, having joined a few months later, although my personal website (http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/) tends to, I am afraid, concentrate on all the negative stories that are so abhorred in the article above – but at least with practical advice on how to campaign for them.

    Really, one needs both: an awareness of how great the threat to libraries is (and in the UK it’s pretty darn bad – see the tally page) and an awareness of what we are in danger of losing. Combine the two and you get a righteous anger amongst library users which can be a glory to behold.

    From looking at US articles too, I think that librarians on your side of the Atlantic are far more proactive in campaigning and speaking up against budget cuts than UK ones. There may be a legal or cultural difference here – in the UK, almost all librarians are too afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs. Libraries are directly run by the councils who decided funding and see campaigning as an open criticism that could lead to disciplinary action or worse. Of course, not speaking up also causes certain dangers.

    I for one welcomed the Huff Post articles. It’s an incredible thing to see any major media outlet giving space to libraries. Yes, please try to steer the articles to your way of thinking … but don’t complain becuase being ignored by the media is the very worst thing that could happen. In the UK, the media ignored libraries for decades and we’re paying the price for it.

  • Thank you, Ian, both for your perspective from across the pond and for voicing the idea that bad news is certainly better than no news. And you’re right about that, the HuffPo page is certainly getting a conversation going. It has personally motivated me to send out positive library news through twitter with the hash-tag #librarysuccessstory. As an optimist, I hope that a few drop will start some ripples…

    Voices of the Library looks like a great page, and I wish you the best with both your professional career as well as your advocacy work!

  • [...] It has pictures of endangered animals (a giant panda, a mountain gorilla, a black rhino) and then the library symbol, the point being that libraries are endangered. I’m sorry to say it but something about this t-shirt does not sit well with me. It rings a little alarmist and reminds me of the Huffington Post “Libraries in Crisis” page which Turner Masland covered in an excellent Hack Library School post called HuffPo: Helping or Hurting?. [...]

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