Can a Library be a Library Without Books?

Marquette University is building a new library, and it seems that they are leaving out a few things...like books. We have seen this before. An article from the Chicago Tribune discusses the issue at length.\"A great library -- just maybe -- should be a library as libraries have defined themselves for centuries: a place of books, a place to wander and browse and look, to pull volumes off shelves, to feel the texture of pages . . . a place to lose yourself in the magical feeling of it all. A computer, even when it is warmed up, is cold; a library, even on a sub-freezing night, is warm.\"

\"We probably shouldn\'t be too hard on Marquette. The university is just reflecting a concern being discussed by library officials around the U.S.: What will \"library\" mean in the new century? And what should libraries do to assure themselves of being needed -- to avoid becoming outmoded?\"

\"For years, we have seen the beginnings of a change in libraries. Videos have been made available, audiotapes have been cataloged and put on loan, computer terminals have been installed, CDs have been added. The thinking behind all of this is that the age in which the printed word, bound between hard covers, is the only important source of information, knowledge and enjoyment . . . that age is long gone.\"

\"Which is, of course, accurate. People receive information on screens, through earphones, via telephone lines and electronic modems -- a case can be made that a library, in the new century, must accept and respect this reality.\"

\"But another case can be made that a good library should not make itself a slave to the new reality. That a good library -- a great library -- may turn out to be just what great libraries have always been: careful and meticulous repositories of books.\"

\"There is nothing very sensory about a computer. You can communicate with other humans around the world via your computer; you can summon an astonishing array of information on virtually every subject -- a library\'s worth of information.\"

\"But you don\'t need a library -- a physical library -- in order to do that. Your computer, in your home, is a library in itself. The stacks of \"books\" providing the information for your computer are . . .\"

\"Where are they? That\'s the mystery. You hit some keys, and the information appears -- but where is the storehouse? It\'s invisible -- you can\'t see it, you can\'t touch it.\"

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