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Friday, November 06, 2009

Libraries Without Books?

Ever since the Web became an intimate part of the lives of many Americans, there has been debate over both the future of the book and the library as an institution that traditionally houses them. I was browsing the Web recently and came upon this article, ("The Future of Libraries: With or Without Books," CNN, Sept. 4, 2009).

“Books are being pushed aside for digital learning centers and gaming areas,” the article begins ‘Loud rooms’ that promote public discourse and group projects are taking over the bookish quiet. Hipster staffers who blog, chat on Twitter and care little about the Dewey Decimal System are edging out old-school librarians.”

The article goes on to offer a great summary of the exciting trends in library services across the globe and the challenges facing U.S. public libraries, which rely on scare taxpayer funds to exist. The U.S. institution may not be able to adapt as well to the technological advances that libraries in other countries are embracing.

Libraries, according to Jason M. Schultz, director of the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at the University of California at Berkeley Law School, have always had two purposes as “places where people can get free information; and they're community centers for civic debate.”

As one can imagine, there is no agreement among library professionals as to whether trends that embrace the digital world actually help or hinder libraries. "It's a source of tension in the field because, for some people, trying to re-brand can be perceived as a rejection of the [library] tradition and the values," says Linda C. Smith, president of the Association for Library and Information Science Education. "But for other people it's a redefinition and an expansion."

Younger librarians do seem to understand that change is in the air. One graduate student in library science says “Sure I love to read. I read all the time. I read physical books. But I don't have the strange emotional attachment that some people possess."

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