Thursday, September 27, 2012

A bookless future for libraries

David Bell has written a thought-provoking and encouraging article in the New Republic. He joins in the widespread discussion on how eBooks impact libraries; ultimately concluding that in order to survive public libraries must adapt to become less dependent on circulating physical items and more focused on fostering the exchange of ideas.

It's much longer than a blog post and I encourage visionary church librarians to take a look at it and ponder what the future might hold for the congregational library.

Here are some excerpts:
 " a development that even just thirty years ago would have seemed like the most absurd science fiction, there are now far more books available, far more quickly, on the iPhone than in the New York Public Library."

There have always been more books available  "out there" then in the NYPL. Libraries select, curate. is foolish to think that libraries can remain the same with the new technology on the scene.

For how long will providing access to physical books remain a central mission for libraries? Even as reading on screens becomes more and more common, the number of books easily available in electronic form seems likely to increase, and a consensus for allowing some form of free access to “library copies” of digital files seems likely to emerge. 
If libraries are  to survive, and thereby preserve their expertise, their communal functions, their specialized collections, and the access they provide to physical books, they must find new roles to play...

Clinging to an outdated vision of libraries is in fact the best recipe for making them look hopelessly obsolescent to the men and women who control their budgets... drawing millions more people into serious reading and learning, the digital revolution has in fact created the need for more spaces of physical interaction...And what institutions are better suited to serve this purpose than libraries?

..."the world of libraries is changing, and we have to change with it.” Ultimately, to survive, libraries will need to become part of the new, partly digital public sphere, attentive to its needs and rhythms, as well as to those of traditional learning and scholarship. 

As Zadie Smith put it recently, “Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.”

Read the full article The Bookless Library

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