Can you imagine a library without books?
By Jessica on July 20th, 2012
Can you imagine a library that contains no physical books? The idea is not a new one. Last year, Time magazine reported on the opening of Drexel University’s Library Learning Terrace which gave students access to 170 million electronic items…but didn’t contain a single volume.
The idea of a library without physical books can cause a book lover to have heart palpitations. I will confess there is a part of me that feels that way. Being a librarian that works for a publisher, it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. This week I was sent an article from The New Republic titled The Bookless Library by David A. Bell. It once again got me thinking about the future of libraries.
There were some pretty big questions to be asked. Do I think there will come a day when most libraries do not contain physical copies of books? Perhaps, but it’s not as simple as you would think. Do I think that libraries will become obsolete? No. Do I think that there needs to be a shift in the way that people view both libraries and librarians? Yes…and the sooner the better.
I can hear the questions/outrage from here. How can a librarian believe that one day libraries will not house physical copies of books? The answer to that is there may not be as many physical books to house. With copyright laws being extended and contracts taking into account new technology such as electronic forms of their works, there may come a day when the majority of the books in production are read on a screen of some sort.
Does that mean that there will no longer be a need for libraries as an institution? Absolutely not! Libraries have always made information available for access by their patrons. For generations, that role was mainly accomplished by stocking books, newspapers and periodicals for that purpose. Now, libraries are a place to access the same type of information in a different form. Does that mean that I am going to start discarding the non-electronic items from my archive? Never! What it does mean is that libraries and patrons will over time broaden their definition of what constitutes a “book”. While I can conceive of a time in our future where books are not printed on paper, I cannot see a time when people are not engrossed in stories or require information.
Society runs on information. Don’t believe me? Try and think of the last time you looked for a job or looked up a movie time for the latest film you wanted to see. Did you check on your phone or computer? Did you check online for a phone number or directions for a destination? Each of those was a search for information. Easy, right? No need for a librarian. You did that all by yourself…maybe even while walking down the street eating a hot dog. Now, who do you think did the work to make sure you could find the information you were looking for? Information Specialists did. That is just a fancy name for a librarian. Think it’s not that hard? If we do it right, it looks incredibly easy. Ever get frustrated because you can’t find something the way you think you should be able to? Now you know why those Information Specialists (a-hem, librarians) are so important.
Now imagine that you don’t have access to a search engine in your pocket or even your home. Imagine that you don’t have access to the internet. Need a government document? Most are online. Need to fill out a job application? You need internet access to apply to many jobs now. So now what? Maybe there’s a friend or a friend of a friend who has the internet. Or you go to the library. You go to the one place where you have access not only to the internet but also people who can and will answer your questions. That access to information is why libraries exist within your communities. Libraries fill the information gap for people.
Libraries, and the librarians that staff them, are a reflection of the needs of the communities in which they reside. Libraries are cultural centers for the community. Librarians are information professionals that are there to assist you with your questions big and small. Yes, there are times that you didn’t need a librarian for an information search. But if you are only finding part of an answer or the information you find will only sort of work for what you need, then you should ask a professional. That is what they are trained for.
But that is just what I think…what about you? Do you think there will come a day when most libraries do not contain physical copies of books? Do you think that libraries will become obsolete? Do you think that there needs to be a shift in the way that people view both libraries and librarians? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think!