A mean-spirited, miserly old Librarian named Ebenezer Scrooge sits in his Library on Christmas Eve. His Assistant-Librarian, Bob Cratchit, sits inactive in the anteroom because Scrooge refuses to let him use social media to promote the library. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, pays his uncle a visit and invites him to a Christmas party; Scrooge reacts to this with bitterness and venom, also spitting out an angry “Bah! Humbug!” in response to his nephew’s suggestion that libraries need to change if they are to remain relevant in the digital age.
Later that evening, after returning to his chilly apartment, Scrooge receives a terrifying visitation from the ghost of his dead former Head Librarian, Jacob Marley. Marley, looking tired and ill, relates his unfortunate story. As punishment for his backwards-looking and pessimistic professional life, his spirit has been condemned to wander the Earth weighted down with all the physical journals he eschewed an online subscription to. Marley hopes to save Scrooge from sharing the same fate. Marley informs Scrooge that three spirits will visit him during the night, with the first at midnight. After the wraith disappears, Scrooge falls fast asleep and dreams of saying “Ssshhh!” to frightened minors.
He awakens in time for the arrival of the Ghost of Libraries Past, a strange Victorian-looking figure, candle-lit and very formal. The spirit escorts Scrooge on a journey into the past to previous Libraries from the ages, having promised to return him by half-past-twelve. Scrooge expects to be told that old-fashioned libraries were terrible and not respected in times gone by; in fact, invisible to those he watches, Scrooge sees how libraries have always served the information-needs of their communities, using the most appropriate platforms available for the written word. For much of history this has meant books and journals. Scrooge feels great nostalgia for the time when libraries were thought of as great intellectual institutions, where great minds were formed, and great ideas researched. He reflects how well he’d fit into the front-line staffing of Libraries Past. The spirit returns Scrooge to his apartment, and Scrooge notices that it is actually 12:35am. He tells the spirit that he will have to fine him for this late return, and that the spirit may be prevented from taking other curmudgeons out into different time-zones until the fines are paid in full. The spirit complains that this is grossly unfair and mumbles to himself that this is a typically cynical scheme to extract money from patrons, and Scrooge explains to him that the reason for the fines is not as a revenue stream but as a deterrent to keeping people for too long when other Ghosts may wish to borrow them, and anyway they’re called ‘customers’ now. After this the spirit evaporates, and Scrooge waits patiently for his next temporal adventure.
The Ghost of Libraries Present – a majestic giant with an iPad, on the back of which is written “I work here, how can I help?” – then takes Scrooge through London to unveil Libraries as they will happen that year. He is shown new, dynamic, fluid, innovative libraries – libraries catering brilliantly for extraordinarily diverse information needs. At first he is sceptical but soon he sees how well these libraries serve their communities – be they public, academic, business, health or any other community. He sees libraries introducing new technology, new collections, new classes, and new directions. He sees libraries training people, helping people find jobs, providing solace and a place to work, and being a hub around which networks and relationships can be built. He sees children being entertained and educated, adults crossing the digital divide, and great minds being fostered. But he also sees that libraries are being undermined by those with a powerful and loud public voice, and those who do not have libraries’ interests at heart. He sees libraries struggling against cuts, despite being needed now more than ever before. He sees many potential library members completely indifferent to the plight of the industry because they are unaware how libraries can be useful for them. They think libraries are still much the same as the ones Scrooge was shown by the Ghost of Libraries Past.
When Scrooge is finally delivered back home, he is abuzz with how many great things are going on, right now. But he is worried that not enough people know about them, and fears that society will not continue to benefit from libraries for much longer if things carry on as they are.
The Ghost of Libraries Yet to Come takes Scrooge by the hand. Scrooge half-expects to be shown desolate former library buildings being boarded up; unhappy former librarians trying to find new jobs; perhaps even to find himself in a churchyard, the spirit pointing to a grave, and Scrooge looking at the headstone and reading the name of the deceased: ‘Libraries. From Alexandria to Google – but not beyond.’ But he sees none of this. In fact, he sees nothing at all. Ahead of he and the spirit stretches a long, blank, vista of nothingness. “I do not understand, spirit,” says Scrooge. “Will you not show me the future of libraries?” The spirit shakes his head. “Can you not predict the future, spirit?” Again, the spirit shakes his head. And then the Spirit speaks.
“The only way to predict the future is to make it happen, Scrooge. The future of libraries has not already been determined; it is up to you and your colleagues in the library community to shape the future you wish to see. Battles are being lost but you can win the war – if you decide to do so. If you focus your efforts on such a goal. If you are willing to adapt, to change, to meet new needs, to promote, to advocate, and to work collaboratively with other Information Professionals and their institutions, all over the world. Can you do this, Scrooge? Can you step up to this collective challenge, or will you let others dictate your fate to you? Will you allow those who do not have libraries’ best interests at heart to shape this future narrative? Or will you take control of it yourselves?”
Scrooge realises that he and everyone else must assume responsibility for the future, and promises to do everything he can to make sure librarians are in control of their own destinies. He is then deposited at home, and the final wraith vanishes.
Overwhelmed with joy by the chance to redeem himself and grateful that he has been returned to Christmas Day, Scrooge rushes out onto the street hoping to share his new found optimism for the library profession. He sends an Amazon Kindle (3G version) to the Cratchit house and sets up a Twitter account for his library, to the stifled surprise of the twitterati. As the years go by, he holds true to his promise and writes his and his peers’ own future of their profession. Together, they make it happen…