Libraries: Where we grow up

By José L. Lage

Professor of Mechanical Engineering
ASME Fellow
Faculty Senate President

Jose Lage
José L. Lage

I would not be surprised if reading is found to be one of today's top human activities. The Internet has made reading extremely easy. The drive to be well informed, to be the first to know and then spread the news, seems viral. Although the sweeping information access produced by the Internet is seen as a blessing by many, it can be considered a curse as well.

The virtual environment created by the Internet often shields individuals from the social challenges presented by physical human interaction. Children used to develop conflict resolution skills organically as they learned to deal with disagreements during play in neighborhood parks and friends' backyards. Now the Internet often serves as a playground. A quick scan of Facebook pages, especially those of youngsters, shows a make-believe world in which inhabitants are always happy and all are friends. In the event someone posts a statement that is slightly adversarial, or even controversial, the Internet allows for the perpetrator to be summarily blocked from continuing his or her virtual social interactions.

Anyone growing up in such an environment is likely to have difficulty enduring discord in the physical world. It can be surmised that as adults, these individuals may develop an excessive aversion to adversity, be it a simple opposing opinion, a difficult question or a derogatory comment.

A library is an ideal place for breeding emotional maturity. No longer somber spaces, modern libraries can and must provide the type of social environment where young people can converse and exchange ideas – and in the process, learn to disagree maturely and productively. That is why I am so enthusiastic about the Central University Libraries' renovation plans for Fondren Library Center, which will make it an even more congenial place to read, study and socialize. The proposed café and browsing area are particularly exciting concepts. Perhaps the urgent need for this type of update to Fondren has already been hinted at by Starbucks – is the company's explosive success really just about the coffee?