Warming Up to End Times

Posted Monday, December 30, 2013 - 11:50
What the coming apocalypse means for libraries
“Sorry no more puppet shows. They’ve been replaced with family wilderness survival skills programs.” Cartoon by Richard Lee

There is no longer any point in debating the reality of global warming (or, if you prefer to be politically correct, climate change). The handwriting is on the wall: 2012 was the hottest year on record and the polar ice caps are melting at an alarmingly fast rate. Then there’s the new research report from the University of Cambridge, which says that the thawing of the Arctic permafrost layer could trigger the release of billions of tons of methane into the atmosphere, accelerating the dire consequences of climate change.

I was pleased to learn that ALA Council recently discussed whether to pull ALA investments out of Big Oil and Big Coal and put the money into Big Wind and Big Sun. The feasibility study that was done by the ALA brass gave the inevitable recommendation that this would be a big money loser and would put ALA behind a financial eightball, which led to the resolution’s defeat.

I hope that Council members who are concerned about global warming will continue that conversation, if for no other reason than to raise awareness. No one is under any illusion that ALA’s withdrawal of funds will impact the world economy, but the publicity that would result would be significant.

I’m not sure when the phrase “long-term strategic planning” became the management fad du jour, but it was before all the gurus realized that because of the rapid change in digital technology it was impossible to plan from month to month, let alone five years out. However, climate change redefines what the term should mean to us.

Library school gurus are telling us that libraries’ mission is now about information dissemination and no longer about reading and collections. Well, what’s more important to disseminate than the research on global warming? And nothing would disseminate that information better than a large information-industry organization like ALA ending its fiscal support of fossil fuels.

What can local libraries do? Three things: (1) provide easy access to the latest research on global warming and highlight this research through public programming; (2) investigate how to make your library buildings less reliant on fossil fuels (the library where I am a trustee is involved in a project that will convert 85% of our electrical use from fossil fuels to solar power); and (3) begin building print resources on basic apocalyptic survival skills.

Given the high probability that the world’s major economic powers will continue to ignore the warning signs of impending doom, we can anticipate a global apocalypse within the next 50 years that will involve violent storms, raging fires, the rapid spread of disease, drought, famine, rising seas, flooding, and wars over water supplies. High-tech systems will erode and then die.

What's the good news? Libraries will be needed as never before. Survivors will have to rely upon long-lost skills (farming, animal husbandry, carpentry) to stay alive. Lucky are the people who will have a library nearby to help them learn those skills.

WILL MANLEY has furnished provocative commentary on librarianship for more than 30 years and has written nine books on the lighter side of library science. Contact him at wmanley7[at]att.net.

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