Is it the end of Libraries as we know them?

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!


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].