Seth’s Blog – “What should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age?”
January 9, 2010
Whilst I acknowliedge that Seth may be on to something, I believe that libraries have always been much more than book storage and share facility. They have always provided a space for small communities to hold meetings. I’ve always experienced the library as a kind of minimal cultural palace. In fact this is what they could much more easily adapt and expand to. The institution or place that appears to be largely ignored by municipalities in particular is a community recognised Cultural space. A kind of space that fosters and engenders quality community relations and shared ideas.
Libraries should remember that digital information is incredibly fragile. (Ask anyone who had a Geocities page or an AOL home page.) Our obligation to be archives for the future increases with the digitization of materials, rather than decreases, because power failures, the end of cheap energy, the failure of business, the filtering of the internet, the loss of programs to read certain formats, the loss of the physical materials on which the digital information is recorded, or the machinery used to read that information, and a slough of other unsolved issues about preservation are paired with an increased awareness of what has existed, creating an increased long-term demand even for esoterica. Print sources may be boring to some, but the only thing you need besides a codex is sunlight. Their reliability is dependent only on availability, and not on a string of companies, laws, and digital rights blocking softward. I like digital information — it can be very useful, but I don’t want to be dependent on it.
Our obligation as librarians to provide context and help people wade through the sea of information available increases too. There are plenty of meeting spaces in the world, and lots of coffee shops. But libraries, and librarians, provide a unique service which we should not undervalue as we grab at shiny new things.
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