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I was skimming blogs today, as a change from the standard news sources, and found this interesting blog entry by a woman in Australia who was concerned about the death the the traditional library. She was worried that a new approach to book lending, similar to may online or through-the-mail movie rental systems, would replace the brick and mortar library, and that the commercialization of information in this way could lead to what amounts to censorship, either based on content or on the economics of stocking only in-demand titles - a concern that I share.
As we move inexorably to a brave new digital world, it is vital that we keep in mind - I know that I've spoken to this topic before, but it's important - that business do not have everyone's interests in mind, like the library does. commercial endeavors are for-profit ventures, designed to stay in the best range of low operating costs to income ratio possible, and this will inevitably result in a reduced selection of materials.
Why does this matter? Because these types of business will become, if they have not already, the number one competition for libraries, along with Google Books. While they certainly serve a purpose, and I'm certain that people will benefit from them, they will still be used, especially in financially trying times like we are now experiencing, as arguments to cut library funding. Why pay for something that someone else is already doing?
We have to push the added value of the library. Ideas like freedom of information; the library is open to all, it keeps titles that may or may not have high circulation rates, may or may not reflect the popular opinions, and above all, even the most poverty stricken homeless person may access the information contained in a library. Moreover, the library represents the interests of all, not just those wealthy enough to afford its services.
Libraries are vital to the intellectual and social health of their communities. They are an integral part of the community, something that we all may use, like the long lost public parks of my childhood. They are place where community can still happen; a public gathering place, a place for neighbors to meet and chat, a place to have a coffee and a physical rather than virtual existence. They are a salve to the wounds to the idea of community, inflicted by endless waves of walled off suburban enclaves, filled with untold numbers of isolated individuals. The library is life, both intellectual and social, and it deserves our protection.