Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The future (if any) of libraries

I keep seeing references to the Extinction Timeline and its prediction that libraries will be extinct by 2019. Most librarians will argue differently, which is no more than one would expect of people defending their profession. The sheer unlikelihood that "everything" can be digitized in the next eleven years argues for libraries' continued existence.

More to the point, though, is that librarians don't see their profession as just storing books, which is no doubt the image these prognosticators have in mind. Already academic libraries are subscribing to e-journals instead of paper, without much alteration of their function. What many people don't understand is that a library was never just about storing books; it's about making information available. Librarians don't think of libraries as warehouses - they think of them as doorways.


James Hanley said...

Our local library is investing a good amount of money in upgrading their facilities. Apparently they don't expect to be gone in 11 years.

Even if we could digitize everything in the next 11 years, I think many people would still go to the library for free internet access, or to read the local newspaper.

And, somehow, I think kids would still have fun climbing up into our library's mock treehouse and having parents read to them--while the kids look at the pictures.

Scott Hanley said...

I didn't go into detail, but libraries are very busy evolving to fit their new environment and avoid extinction - a profession's highest goal is to perpetuate itself, of course. Libraries are trying to reinvent themselves as civic centers, drawing people in with things such as gaming nights, and emphasizing digital resources, not just books. Information-seeking still benefits from assistance and organization, despite Google, so there's still a niche to exploit.

James Hanley said...

And of course those people predicting the death of libraries aren't putting their efforts into thinking about what other niches libraries might fill. So they're far more likely to miss out on the opportunities than the thousands of librarians who are looking for them.

It always amuses me when a small handful of people without direct interest assume they know more than a large group of people who do have direct interest.