the future of libraries

the failure of the digital model

Oddly, it's a failure of modern devices to adapt to electronic content. For books, this means that your reader needs to comply with one or more of these formats: EPUB, Kindle, PDF, Plucker, QiOO Mobile, and Plain Text. (This is based on the file selection for texts from Project Gutenberg.)

But paper adapts fantastically. We have paperback, hardcover, oversize books, pamphlets, large print books, tiny pocket books, spiral bound books, weird font books, picture and board books, smooth glossy photographs, textured pages, braille, deckle edges, ... pretty much any form that paper can take can be used to display print and images.

Can I fit a large format world atlas in your iPad? Not without losing the entire perspective of the area. Sure, you can zoom in with any level of detail or scale or at any angle, but does a 30" map really work better on a 6" x 9" screen?

Digital is restrictive. Ironically, when it comes to sharing, electrons are rigid and paper is fluid.

What is the point of the public library?

I'm listening to a BBC Radio broadcast on the history and purpose of the public libraries of Britain. These are some of my thoughts:

So taxes where once levied with a dual purpose: one to pay for the establishment of a public library; and two, to encourage people to use what they have already paid for to better themselves through this communal opportunity for self-education.

Part of this history was that lost requirement of the individual to prove his worthiness to join the community of the library. Now, we just ask for some identification, but originally, there were many more hurdles to overcome before one could qualify for membership in a public library. Residents used to beg to be let in, but now it's the libraries that seem to be begging people to join: what happened?

Modern libraries seem to be in constant motion chasing relevance. "Stay relevant!" is the current mantra. But what is relevant? Is literacy relevant? Are job skills relevant? Are DVDs and streaming video relevant?

Libraries never used to compete with the local book, music and video stores. We bought classics and educational materials. We bought new books, but only after they had been on the bestseller list for a few weeks.

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