Tag Archives: libraries

Libraries and the Future

I am a bibliophile. I bought an old house partly because it has a library to house my books. While I do read e-books, I love the feel of a book in my hands. If you care at all about my love of books, I have a whole blog mostly devoted to reading and books.

But the point of this entry is to muse a bit on libraries. I’ve been thinking a lot about them recently for two reasons.  I started this year as I do many years with a resolution to buy fewer books. Actually, the resolution was to spend less money in general but since books are a big part of my discretionary spending, they are pretty much the same resolution.

In addition, I was asked to do a short talk about the role of libraries in the future so am reading Biblio-Tech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey. He gets at the essential conundrum of libraries in a digital age:

Libraries are in danger because they are caught between two ideas that are not easily reconciled: on the one hand, the public sentiment that the digital era has made libraries less relevant, and on the other, the growing number of expectations we have for libraries, stemming in no small part for the very digitalization that the public assumes is making them obsolete. These two ideas cannot be right.

I think the latter idea is the one on which we should focus. I live in a town in which the library plays an important role in many ways beyond just books including free computer and Internet access for people who otherwise could not afford it.

For those of us who do have access and devices, they have invested heavily in digital resources. When I stopped in last week, the librarian was eager to show me their magazine database. Lots of excellent titles. I really like being able to browse magazines that I otherwise would not buy and I discovered you can easily print select pages so I can save particular articles and recipes for later use.

EdTech has an interesting take on libraries as well, describing the dystopian future as one in which books either don’t play a role at all or are banned and burned. Defending libraries is also about defending our rights as citizens to the free flow of information.


Bookless Libraries?

That was the headline that was all over Twitter this morning, pointing to a story about a town in Texas that is soon to open a bookless library where users can check out ereaders loaded with their choice of books.

This is going to change everything, according to the local officials:

Precinct 1 Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez said, “This is an incredible project that I’m very happy to have in my precinct. I think it’s really going to change the way that our residents begin to incorporate technology, reading and learning into their daily lives.”

Liz Dwyer at good.is points out two of the obvious problems: not all books are available as ebooks and not everyone knows how to use an ereader.

I know several of the geekiest of techno-geeks who simply don’t like reading using an ereader. Should they be forced to change their voracious reading habits when the world is full of analog books?

In fact, two communities that tried the bookless concept–Newport Beach, California, and Tucson, Arizona–ended up adding analog books to their collections at the community’s request.

My own library system has a nice hybrid: analog books on the shelf with a robust interlibrary loan system and digital books available for checkout on your own device. It means I can access library books even when I can’t get to the library. But when I’m in the mood for browsing the shelves, flipping the pages, and looking for other materials like magazines, music and videos, I can head to the bricks and mortar version.

Finally, I hope these bookless libraries will recognize that people use the library for much more than consuming media: my own library has computers and printers, a fax machine, workshops on resume writing, and activities for families. In our quest to do something “cutting edge,” let’s not lose sight of the things that are working in traditional institutions.