10 Reasons Why The Web Is Almost A Substitute For Libraries

Mark Y. Herring said the Internet is no substitute for a library in 2001. Now, in 2006, in an effort to save our profession, strike a blow for librarians, and, above all, correct the well-intentioned but misguided notions about what the future holds, here are 10 reasons why the Internet will soon be a substitute for the library for many people.

1. Everything I Need IS On The Internet.
2. Catalog This!
3. Quality Control Does Exist
4. Nothing Is Perfect
5. Check Out Dan Brown's Bytes @Your Library
6. The Ebook Is Coming
7. Look Ma, No Books!
8. Everything Is Born Digital
9. We No Longer Care What Was Written In 1970
10. The Internet Is Already Ubiquitous And Portable.1. Everything I Need IS On The Internet: If I need to search powerful databases like Lexis I can do that from home. If I need to find something less important, I can use Google, et. al. Compared to most people, I have relatively high information needs; today they are met almost entirely by the web. I print things out to read when I can't be at a computer, soon I'll just be able to download them into something that's easy to read anywhere. Everything my wife needs is on the web, and everything all my nieces need is on the web as well. I know everything is not on the web, and probably won't be any time soon. Everything everyone needs will never be digitized, but we're already at a point where a large number of people's needs are met by what they can get through their computer.

2. Catalog This! Post coordinate indexing is the only way to go when we talk about billions of pages. Sure, you're never searching the entire web, but chances are you'll find what you need. Saying you're not searching everything in the world is like saying you're never going to drive your car on every road, therefore, don't get a car. There are millions, if not billions, of quality documents on the (free and paid) web. It's relatively easy to find quality in the mediocrity now. The time lag problem of 5 years ago has been overcome, try to imagine what we'll be able to search in another 5.

3. Quality Control Does Exist… It's Just Different: How would you catalog a book about the Informatics program at The State University of New York at Buffalo? Could a patron ever find it in your OPAC if they searched on "ub informatics"? Probably not. But I just tried that in Google, Ask, and MSN and they all got it right. "Real" cataloging and authority are great, they're also hard to use for more people. Rather than trying to educate the users and make them see the strengths of a new way of thinking, search engines know how people think and work with that. Using links, tags, and a multitude of secret ingredients search engines use the authority inherent in the web to brew up some decent search results. As search algorithms grow more powerful things will only get better.

4. Nothing Is Perfect: People love to attack anything new based on how it underperforms in it's current state. My car breaks down all the time, I'm not going to stop driving. My furnace breaks down, I'm not going to start heating my house with a wood stove. Whether it's free or paid, all databases have quality control issues. The list of problems goes on and on, but why throw everything away? The strengths with current systems far out weigh the weaknesses. As new systems come online to address the obvious problems we have now they will only make things better.

5. Soon you will be able to share books digitally: (If "they" don't stop you) More and more we have choices for digital circulation options. Libraries are now "checking out" electronic books and music. Vendors are working on hardware, software, and new systems that will deliver ebooks to ereaders. The days of libraries being collections of dusty old books are already behind us. There will be increasing numbers of people who only want to check out ebooks. If DRM doesn't strangle the technology, it holds great promise.

6. The Ebook Is Coming: Hitachi, Sony and others are working on the new generation of readers, and from all reports, they look good. The big question, of course, is will people want it? The Sony Libre and now Hitachi Albirey are the first generation of what appear to be truly usable ebook readers. While it's doubtful it'll catch on like the iPod, popular acceptance of these new useful readers is just around the corner.

7. There aren't library-less universities, NOW: A fully virtualized library (or damn near fully) is only years away for most small colleges. We have already reached the point where the information needs of most people can be met most of the time with what's available on the web, add in paid databases available from libraries and other sources and that number grows even more. With budgets being pinched it won't be long before some schools make the switch. Missouri State lawmakers voted Tuesday to create a "virtual public school" that would link students to teachers and textbooks by computer starting in 2007. It should be easy to imagine how a library building could be replaced by a web site now.

8. Everything Is Born Digital Now: We have now reached the point where everything created from this day forward could be available on the web. If everything is available electronically what will our patrons be checking out other than electronic media? Obviously libraries and archives, particularly in larger research institutions will always serve archival purposes, no one advocates trashing digitized works, but with Google and others racing to digitize print we should see a critical mass of digital books soon. The cost to do this work will drop just like the cost of all technology. The biggest problems will come from people fighting to keep their works from being copied freely. Plenty of content creators will be fighting to keep their work safe with DRM and even the elimination of fair use.

9. No One Cares They Can't Read Something From The :1970s (even thought they increasingly can) I worked in one of the largest academic libraries in the country for a couple years and I was surprised at how infrequently I was asked a challenging reference question. Most students, even at a large research library don't need much from the archives. How will you be able to convince people it's worth it to run a library that is visited only by the most dedicated researchers? Though the majority of the world doesn't need OOP materials, much of them can already be found in paid and free sources, and more is added all the time. There will always be a limited need for older materials, but that need is much smaller than what most people want, and are willing to pay for or support. If most people don't need most of the things libraries have to offer, will they see any value?

10. The Internet Is Both Ubiquitous and Portable: Assuming humankind will always want to curl up with a good book because that's what we grew up with is just plain wrong. I never felt nostalgia to sit around a radio at night, my father never missed riding the street cars, his father never missed outhouses. People born 30 years from now aren't going to care they don't have iPods. Though we've heard it for what seems like decades now, ebook reader technology will reach the point where it will be an easy replacement for books, and for many people they will leave print behind. Why curl up with one book, when you can curl up with something that's the same size, and holds many books, plus what ever else you can download? It may be we'll still use our local library to fill our devices, and we'll call our librarian in a panic when it crashes.

To paraphrase Herring again, the Web is great; and it's already a substitute for a full-service library for a growing number of people. For many people libraries are already obsolete. The Web is far more than just a tool, and most of the technology we're currently using is only in it's infancy. Libraries are increasingly being seen as icons of a time in the past, totems to the ancient arcane knowledge only used by researchers. Libraries are marvelous, but to claim, as some now do, that people aren't increasingly seeing us as outdated is just plain dangerous. The web makes much of what libraries do faster, easier and cheaper for many people, why would they need anything else?

[I hope it's obvious that I'm playing devil's advocate here. Some of my arguments may be easy to pick apart. I'm trying to point out some things I believe we as a profession are ignoring. If I've convinced you I'm right about something, great, let's figure out what we can do, if you think I'm making some good points, then good, let's all start working on raising the profile of our profession. If you're convinced I'm wrong, let me know why, what I'm missing, and tell me why everything will be just fine and that I have nothing to worry about.]

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Re:Challenge!

Everything I wanted to say, and said very well.

I (as, I gather, Blake does) work in a setting where I have access to an awful lot of expensive web-based services, but (apparently unlike Blake) I still experience the frustration of NOT having access to what I know is out there when what I'm doing is not work-related. And yes, everything (for reasonable definitions of "everything") is "born digital" today, but that doesn't mean it's accessible on the web, or that it's going to be accessible on the web, or that it would be easy to make it accessible on the web.

And aside from all the problems you discuss, what the web (or any electronic medium) doesn't have is paper's archival durability under any reasonable storage conditions. Many people miss this point; the ease with which paper can be intentionally destroyed seems to obscure for them how well it stands up to mere neglect. Eliminate paper editions, and all we've got is electronic editions that are incredibly vulnerable to neglect, aging media, and technology change.

Re:Why Rochelle is Better than the Internet

Yep. Right on point.

Libraries have Librarians and service, and the potential to connect in a very human way.

At least, they do for now...

Re:Why Rochelle is Better than the Internet

I wrote that on the second to last day of my job--after 11 years--while I was on the reference desk. Patrons, some whose names I didn't know, somehow knew I was leaving, and came up to wish me well, and thank me for all my help, and made me know with certainty that I had done a good job and made a difference. I owe huge thanks to one of my partners, the Internet, for making me an excellent librarian, but, you see, we're a team, and I'm taking him with me to the next job.

Re: Mr. Midshipman Hornblower

Excellent points!

Re:But not everyone has access. . .

Good points, I really didn't rule out the paid version of the web, but good points, especially on access.

Re:Challenge!

>>Libraries never pleased everybody, I doubt the Internet willTrue, of course the Internet stands a better chance>>Really? I miss all those things and have experienced none.You might be a neocon if...>>It would be tough to bring them around at any point but arguments have to be made.Exactly, and really that's my point here, there are more and more people who think we're useless.Great points, I think we probably agree on more than we disagree on this topic.

Re:Library-less universities.

I think the main answer is that (broad generalization here) academic libraries are used for research, while public libraries are used for recreation. Your list is pretty focused on information availability, with not much attention paid to things like comfort, escape, and entertainment. Tell the patron who wants to read Mr. Midshipman Hornblower that nothing written before 1970 is worth their time.

In addition, there's a significant class bias in your list. Believe me, the Internet is neither ubiquitous nor portable for the vast majority of my patrons.

Why Rochelle is Better than the Internet

Because I care, dammit!
Because I will try my best to read your mind when what you're asking me doesn't make any sense.
Because I will loan you my pen or pencil if you ask nicely. And, yes...a stapler, wite out, paper and three-hole punch.
Because I will listen sympathetically, or at least appear to.

Because I will sit down and show you how to use the toolbar in Word to make a kick-ass flyer for your chrome polishing business. AND, I'll remind you about spell-check.

Why are you better, as a librarian, than the internet?

Challenge!

(always thought Tap never got enough respect)

1. Everything I Need IS On The Internet

Everything *you* need is on the Internet. What about the other 250+ million people out there? Libraries never pleased everybody, I doubt the Internet will.

If I need to search powerful databases like Lexis I can do that from home Really? Who's paying for it?

If I need to find something less important, I can use Google, et. al. Truth, but libraries heavy emphasis on ready reference was a mistake, short term popularity, long term cost.

Everything everyone needs will never be digitized, but we're already at a point where a large number of people's needs are met by what they can get through their computer. A lot of adults need a quiet space to work. A lot of kids need a place to learn before going to school and outside of school structure when in. When Google supplies those I'll eat one of my ties.

2. Catalog This! Post coordinate indexing is the only way to go when we talk about billions of pages.

Yeah I don't know what any of that means.

3. Quality Control Does Exist… It's Just Different

That's not how I define quality control. For me its school research based on random web surfing instead of relying on something that has least gone throught the editing process.

4. Nothing Is Perfect: People love to attack anything new based on how it underperforms in it's current state. My car breaks down all the time, I'm not going to stop driving. My furnace breaks down, I'm not going to start heating my house with a wood stove. Whether it's free or paid, all databases have quality control issues. The list of problems goes on and on, but why throw everything away? The strengths with current systems far out weigh the weaknesses. As new systems come online to address the obvious problems we have now they will only make things better.

Any reason I can't use the same arguments in favor of libraries?

5. Soon you will be able to share books digitally and
6. The Ebook Is Coming Cheat cheat, no repeats.

While it's doubtful it'll catch on like the iPod, popular acceptance of these new useful readers is just around the corner.

I'm not going to say ebooks are off the board but... I am willing to pay $2-300 for a device that gives me access to my own entire cd collection plus a selection from millions of songs for me to choose from at 99 cents apiece. I'm not paying $2-300 for a device that has none of my books on it and is only good for the new books I want to read (which may be anywhere from 2-20 a year) but will cost me $10-20 each still and that is only if the book I want is printed in the e-format compatible with my reader (hopefully a nonproblem but there is no guarantee).

7. There aren't library-less universities, NOW If every other problem gets solved then yes, college libraries as most people view them will be nonexistent. If every other problem gets solved...

8. Everything Is Born Digital Now See #7

9. No One Cares They Can't Read Something From The :1970s (even thought they increasingly can)

This is a problem, not a perk. Valuing libraries and research as concepts is part of the solution.

10. The Internet Is Both Ubiquitous and Portable: Assuming humankind will always want to curl up with a good book because that's what we grew up with is just plain wrong. This is true but only because too many (everybody?) assumes we're all alike. A lot of people don't like to read at all. A lot of people aren't interested in looking up everything under the sun and have no interest in carrying around the internet no matter how portable it is. Its omniscience is a turn-off for some as much as it is a turn-on for others.

I never felt nostalgia to sit around a radio at night, my father never missed riding the street cars, his father never missed outhouses.

Really? I miss all those things and have experienced none.

To paraphrase Herring again, the Web is great; and it's already a substitute for a full-service library for a growing number of people. For many people libraries are already obsolete. The Web is far more than just a tool, and most of the technology we're currently using is only in it's infancy. Libraries are increasingly being seen as icons of a time in the past, totems to the ancient arcane knowledge only used by researchers. Libraries are marvelous, but to claim, as some now do, that people aren't increasingly seeing us as outdated is just plain dangerous. The web makes much of what libraries do faster, easier and cheaper for many people, why would they need anything else?

Is there a danger here? Yes because I think a lot of the people who like to claim that libraries are outdated are people who never used them to begin with (there are many). It would be tough to bring them around at any point but arguments have to be made. We provide multiple environments specific to various age groups that promote learning and reading. We provide access to numerous materials both digital and non-digital that no one person would ever have access to, even with the internet. And most importantly we act as intermediaries between individuals and knowledge which is intimedatingly ubiquitous in all its forms.

I don't for a minute believe libraries or librarians are going the way of the Do-do but obviously the Internet has had an impact, some for the good as well as the bad. If e-books ever actually make it then it too will have a monumental impact but there is no preparing for that one until its here.

But not everyone has access. . .

On that first one, you can access Lexis as long as you either pay for it or you are affiliated to a place that pays for the access on your behalf. If it's a library, it likely is the academic version unless it is a law library, which gets the one I like to call "on steroids" (aka the ones the lawyers actually use). So, in that sense, not everything is on the Internet. You may be a "power" user, but not everyone is, and I don't mean that as an insult. Simply the fact that just because it is on the Internet it is not necessarily good. A lot of what the average people see is the visible Web, and I think we know about its quality issues. As for portability, again, it depends on who has access and who does not. It is not very portable if you cannot afford some mobile device, and your only access may well be the public library's free wireless. To me, that is the one thing the "visionaries" keep forgetting. It is not really for all until you actually get them all to have access. And right now, that does not seem to be happening anytime soon. But that, is another question.

Re:Challenge!

>>Really? I miss all those things and have experienced none.
>You might be a neocon if...

Greg might, but I'm not, and I agree with him on virtually every point.

Well, okay, not the outhouses (which I have experienced, and don't miss), but everything else in this post.

Library-less universities.

"7. There aren't library-less universities, NOW:"

Oh, yes there are. Exclusively- or mostly-online universities like the University of Phoenix have no libraries, as we public librarians well know. We act as the library for the students of these institutions, with no access to instructors, no collection guidelines, and no tenure-track job opportunities.

I don't want to get all ivory-tower on you, Blake, but this is one place where those of us at the public reference desk see something you academics don't.

Re:Library-less universities.

1. Good point, I hadn't thought about University of Phoenix, et. al. and how they might be served.2. Who you calling an academic?3. What am I missing? I've been an academic in the past, but I've never worked in a public library, so I really don't know.

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