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Saturday, May 25, 2024

PHALON’S FILE: When Did Libraries Become Media Centers?

A few years ago, while I was serving on a Board of Education, a neighbor from down the street had a minor issue he wanted to bring before the board and asked me when the next meeting would be held.

Monday at 7 p.m., in the Media Center of the high school, I dutifully told him. So, the meeting came, but he was late and not happy.

“Why didn’t you tell me the meeting was in the library?”

I had said “Media Center,” so he spent 20 minutes looking for the room with the TVs, video
recorders, and movie projectors. (He was a little Old School.) That was what he understood
“media” to mean.

He was right. We were, indeed, in the library. Somewhere along the digitalization of information, somebody came up with the term media center to replace the traditional
designation of library. This is a mistake and contributes in part to the decline in the interest of the classics and the arts in education.

Perhaps somebody thought “library” suggested a room with dusty old books and papers. And delightfully, it does. There are documents in libraries that will never find their way to Google and the digital firmament. Researchers will still have to use ingenuity, not keystrokes, to find them.

Granted, what Google and other organizations are doing to convert the printed word to digital form is a wonderful thing, especially in our new era of book-banning. Making information more available to all is the foundation of a free society.

Being able to reach into your pocket and access almost every printed work in the history of humankind (when not trading pictures of cats or arguing with total strangers) is as big a development, I believe, as moveable type was centuries ago.

So, the information is now available across many platforms.

But we still need libraries. It’s all about rebranding, I suppose, to make a staid institution sound more current. Like when the Personnel Department became known as “Human Resources.” Watch the movies “The Matrix” or “Soylent Green” and you might not feel so comfortable being a human resource.

“Media” has become an overused word. In the news business, you used to get a press card.
Now you get media credentials.

The line between news reporting and entertainment has become all the more blurred, to where many people think somebody like Sean Hannity, because he is in the media, is a journalist. He’s not.

The “press” has been subsumed into the “media” to the point where many people don’t see the line between news and entertainment. It’s all just one big blur. Where is the line between “Meet the Press” and “Meet the Fokkers”?

Radio-satellite-internet personality Howard Stern has proclaimed himself The King of All Media.

Not so fast. Martha Stewart presides over the eponymous Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

One of them may lay claim to your school’s media center one day. Let’s call these academic institutions what they are: libraries. The media by which its content is available may be evolving, but its mission remains the same as it has for centuries. A repository for knowledge, learning and pictures of cats.

Speaking of cats, you will never see the lions Patience and Fortitude standing proudly before the New York Public Media Center. And may there never be a field trip to The Media Center of Congress.


Joe Phalon
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.

Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.

Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.

Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.