The future for libraries is clear if a little uncertain.
It is very easy to think the days of the library are numbered as ever more complex Internet systems are developed with a rapidly growing information base. The Internet allows us to search on any topic and even write about it and publish it on-line. Humanity has never been so wealthy in terms of being able draw on the knowledge of the world.
Books are often considered old fashioned and can’t be easily be updated with new discoveries. They are bulky and take up space. Any information I need I can search for at a click of a button but is it really as simple as that?
One problem that libraries have is that the material, particularly in a technological sense, can date very quickly. The Internet world is changing daily which means that the life span of books in this are relatively short. Manuals on computer programming are virtually obsolete once they come off the press as new forms of software are developed whereas real-time updates can be made on-line.
This aside, books by learned authors writing about historical events and scientific advancements can be of real value. The lives of people and world developments can be told on the page in far greater detail than can be easily explained on the net. Hence, the real value in libraries is not exclusively the information it holds but in how it is displayed – the books themselves.
Despite ever more effective search engines to quickly access material, the Internet is not a satisfactory way to read information. You may need to search several different sites which display the data in different ways. Quite often you don’t know exactly what you’ll find – it may be a summary or in-depth but it could also be inaccurate or badly written. What are the credentials of the writers? Is it a professor or some old Joe with an ill-informed theory?
Books, because they are printed and bound by a publisher, generally have more credibility because they wouldn’t have been issued otherwise. This is particularly true of technical writers as the customer market is so small. The information is subject specific, detailed and if well-written, easily search-able.
If we were to sell the concept of a book now we could say that it is an in-depth study of a subject in a portable and accessible volume. Information is categorized into chapters to allow the reader to choose the area of most interest with speed and simplicity.
Books do still have a place in our lives.
The printed word is still the best way to read on the move. Even if we find an article on-line that has the information we need we still usually print the pages off as it’s not so convenient or practical to view it on screen.
I think it highly unlikely that the Internet will ever completely replace the library in the education system. Libraries are quiet places that are conducive to study so even if they feature computer work stations that aid a student’s research, the buildings themselves have an intrinsic value.
We live in a time that is punctuated by the noise of modern life. We can barely hear ourselves think so despite libraries being seen as outdated institutions they should be maintained forever more.
For any 21st century library to be considered truly worthwhile, it must offer its users access to both the printed and the on-line world. There is absolutely no reason why they cannot continue to co-exist and I for one will do all I can to make sure it does so.