Is it the end of Libraries as we know them?

Topic: 

Sarah Scrafford has written a short essay for LISNews :

Is it the end of Libraries as we know them?

We’re undergoing a revolution in the way information is accessed and disseminated. Traditional models
of learning and acquiring knowledge have given way to new-fangled innovations that are collectively referenced under the umbrella term Web 2.0. Today, encyclopedias have bowed down to Wikipedia, the local grapevine has shriveled with the advent of the blog, books have closed their pages in deference to the germination of OpenCourseWare and newspapers are being forced to maintain an online presence or be forgotten altogether.

In this rapidly changing scenario, one has to ponder the questions –  

  • Is this the end of
    libraries as we know them?
  • How sustainable and
    relevant are they in the midst of this information explosion we are
    experiencing through the world wide web?
  • What do libraries have
    to do in order to keep up and prevent being left out?
  • Does the advent of
    e-books and free information on the Internet spell doom for the paper
    and print books we knew so intimately till now?

 

The answer to all these posers can be summed up in one phrase – you can’t beat technology, you just have to join it. Libraries must thus be willing to embrace change
as a friend rather than reject it as an enemy without even trying to establish a rapport with it. With computers and digital technology taking over, it’s high time librarians took charge of the digitization of
their archives. This change is not just necessary for survival, it’s also a boon for the preservation of information for posterity – unlike books which erode in quality over time, their digital counterparts are made of zeroes and ones which can be generated as many times as needed
at almost no cost at all.  

Digitization allows libraries to stay in tune with the changing times and adapt to changing needs by allowing access through the Internet or via electronic media. Classification
and inventory becomes easier with the introduction of newer technologies like RFID tagging. And at the end of the day, the fact remains that no matter how much of an edge the Internet has over a brick-and-mortar
library, when it comes to authenticity and originality, there’s no beating a library.  

It’s ironic when you consider that today, paper is becoming a scare and expensive commodity with the obliteration of trees worldwide, while electronic goods are becoming
cheaper by the day, and also polluting the environment because of the difficulty in disposing of e-waste in a way that’s not detrimental to the earth. Is it reason enough to switch back to the time and tested
tradition of books that we can feel and touch as opposed to bits and bytes floating around in a virtual world? Unfortunately, we can only speculate!  

By-line: 

Sarah Scrafford is an industry
critic, as well as a regular contributor on the subject of top rated online universities. She invites your questions, comments
and freelancing job inquiries at her email address: [email protected].

Comments

Sarah wrote that digitization "is not just necessary for survival, it’s also a boon for the preservation of information for posterity – unlike books which erode in quality over time, their digital counterparts are made of zeroes and ones which can be generated as many times as needed at almost no cost at all."
I disagree.
A book printed on acid-free paper will last 500 years. I doubt that by the end of that same time span I will be able to read any current digital file. And migrating files to the latest format is not inexpensive -- unless you decide to save only a small percentage of your collection.
In a phrase: digital files do not preserve anything, they only create yet another item that must be preserved.

Where has Sarah Scrafford been. Libraries of all type have been actively embraching technology, the Internet, and digitization for the last decade. Public libraries have been amazingly successful in establishing themselves as a place for public access to the Internet and digital content. One hundred percent of the public libraries in Wisconsin offer public access to the Internet. The Wisconsin state library agencies purchases a huge amount of commercial digital content that is available to every person in the state. Many other states have similar stories.

Library 2.0 does not guarantee the survival of libraries. School libraries in Wisconsin have overwhelmngly embraced educational technology, but that has not prevented the loss of many school librarian jobs.

Libraries and librarians are in the business of changing lives for the better. Providing access to digital content is certainly one way that this can be accomplished, but it isn't the only way.

It is now universally accepted that the most important period for learning in human beings is the first three years of life. Public education is finally trying to work its way down to four year old kindegarten. That leaves public libraries as the major public institution that can assist and promote learning during this period. Many Wisconsin public libraries have done exceptional jobs in the area of early childhood education. The Public Library Association has a major initiative in this area. If public libraries nationwide established early learning as a major priority, this along would justify their continued public support. Library 2.0 plays a very small role in this arena.

I'm retired after over 40 years of working in public and state libraries. I've seen a lot of technology come and go, but the essence of librarianship remains pretty constant. Libraries and librarians are going to be changing lives for the better for a long time to come.

In regards to these questions:

* Is this the end of
libraries as we know them?
* How sustainable and
relevant are they in the midst of this information explosion we are
experiencing through the world wide web?
* What do libraries have
to do in order to keep up and prevent being left out?
* Does the advent of
e-books and free information on the Internet spell doom for the paper
and print books we knew so intimately till now?

Librarians have been asking them and discussing them for twenty years. Sarah Scrafford needs to ask some relevant questions. For example, "Will the horseless carriage impact the inner city?"

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