If Libraries Remove Computers, Will Anyone Come?


If iPads and other new mobile computers catch on, libraries might not need to offer rooms full of computers for students to do their research, writing, and Facebooking. But if that happens, will students have any reason left to visit the library?

That's the provocative question posed by Brian Mathews, assistant university librarian at the University of California at Santa Barbara, on his blog this week.

The trend in the last few years was to add more computers to the library, creating spaces often called "information commons." And during that time, visits to the library have increased greatly. "I think the key to our current success has been the computers," Mr. Mathews says on his blog.

Article and link to blog post here


public libraries aren't going to be ceasing providing computers any time soon. even if steve jobs himself was going to provide every man woman and child with an ipad, free of charge.

academic libraries may fall under a slightly different scope- if the university provides students laptops, and the uni library isn't open to the public then perhaps computers aren't necessary. depends on the customer's need.

even if there comes a time where "computers" or whatever internet-accessing /workstation-y device is ubiquitous (is that even possible, truly?), libraries will simply change to meet the current need. if the current computer goes the way of the dodo bird, libraries will simply (or should) provide access to the current world's device or service.

whatever customers need as far as information access, community participation, lifelong learning, e-government, etc, the library will continue to evolve to meet those needs. its what makes us so great- and such a cornerstone of any thriving society.

As a recent MLS graduate, I am interested in finding out what are the current resources librarians use to keep abreast of the latest library technology: what website, journals, etc. do you consult without getting overwhelmed with the abundance of resources out there?

sorry, forgot to sign it. didn't realize the comment would come up anonymous...

~Julie Strange, strangelibrarian.org

Thanks for picking this up. I think our dependance on technology is an important topic for librarians to consider. But just one thing--- in the original post I built this question around predictions about the future of computing-- the merger of cloud, mobile devices, and light-projection capabilities. I'm not saying you should junk your desktops this summer [maybe next summer!] but rather that it is a good time to anticipate the emerging trends in access, discovery, creation, and sharing of information... and what that means for the profession.

I know that many many patrons use libraries for more than web access, but a large portion of them do and so the post was really more of a question about that's next and how we can consciously evolve.

Here is my original post with more background including the possibility of "layering" -- and please note that I used the phrase "wild speculation" in the title:


There is also some really good info in a recent Wired about the rise of tablets and the decline of the desktop-- but get the print version if you can-- it is a much better interface for reading:


One thing to keep in mind is that there is a segment of library patrons that are not up to date with emerging technology. We can't do away with one technology as one comes out because these patrons will be lost in the transition.

kinda like the card catalog huh?

Let me make my thought a bit clearer. We can't do away with certain technologies the moment something new comes out. Often we can't make that transition completely for years. First, it always comes down to money, or lack thereof. Then, you do have to factor in how big of a segment of your patrons are going to be displaced by the transition.

In my particular library, we had to make sure to keep computers with floppy drives because a segment of our users still use them. In particular, those who get help with resumes at the employment office are given a floppy disk with their resume on it. We are often the only places these people can go to print, view, or attach their resumes to online job applications. If a government agency still provides floppys, how can we do away with them yet?

As for the card catalog, to this day we still have patrons who prefer the physical card catalog to the computer catalog. Some of those patrons adamantly oppose using the computer catalog even though that is the only option we offer. There will always be holdouts on any transition.

And I'm not saying we shouldn't make transitions. I just think a lot of times, libraries try to do the newest thing available and lose sight of what their patrons truly need.

if they continue to have free DVDs sure they will come

The important point that Brian is making, I think, is that things are moving to the cloud -- Whether libraries remove computers is a moot point -- The reality seems to be that "computers" like the ones we use now are going the way of the model-T. We won't have much to say about whether to remove them from libraries or not.

So with things moving to the cloud, what should we in libraries do to prepare for it? I think the best thing we can do is to learn how to adapt our information to mobile interfaces. Right now, as I've written, the most practical way to do that is to use an iPod Touch ...
... It gives superb experience of designing mobile information sources, and also serves as a gateway to the surging world of the iPad, having such a similar user interface -- It's certainly looking like the great success of the iPad is going to hasten the coming of the age of the Cloud.

Eric Rumsey