Image from: thesilo.ca
I have recently been surrounded by a lot of talk about the perilous future of libraries. It’s been the subject of many a lecture offered around Libraryland, and it’s been a hot topic on the Bibliotech podcast series in which I participate. I also recently met someone new who asked me what I do for a living. When I told her that I am a librarian, she said to me: “But I thought libraries are dying?” “Not exactly,” was my response, “they’re evolving.” And then I posed the question to her: “Have you been to a library lately?”
I presently work in two library systems, however I have held several contracts within different libraries over the last couple of years. The libraries in which I work or have worked, are busier than ever! Yes, the services we offer are changing, but in all circumstances that I have seen, the demand for library resources is overwhelmingly strong. It is not unusual to see cart after cart of books, kits, DVDs and CDs being returned to the library each day– enough to run the circulation staff off of their feet. There are often line ups at the information desks too, and that doesn’t include the frequent phone calls that they get from remote library customers. If you factor all of this in with the countless reports from OverDrive about the continual rise in library ebook lending and all of the other electronic resources that are utilized, then you get a very different picture of libraries.
So why do people think libraries are dying? Is it because people think the book is dying? Not enough people read anymore and everything is now available virtually, so the library is a dinosaur, right? Nope. There are plenty of people who still need paper books and resources for various reasons. However, the virtual realm is slowly taking over and the library is heavily involved in that too– most systems have a long list of electronic databases that you can consult for anything from health issues, to do-it-yourself guidance, to figuring out what fiction book to read next. If you want to delve into the fabulous world of ebooks, then the library is great place to go. Library systems across the country are adding thousands of titles to their ebook collections each year and librarians are poised to help you get started. But if you simply want to come in to get advice on how to research a particular topic, or you’re there to read a newspaper and enjoy some down time, then you can do that too. However, the library is not only a storage facility for books, newspapers and articles (both physically and virtually speaking). The library is also buzzing because it offers more than that– it’s a place for community meetings, poetry readings, group projects, homework help, gaming tournaments, access to settlement services, etc. It’s also a place where people can be inspired to improve their lives, or to build on existing knowledge. For instance, you can register for a program in a library to help you learn computer skills, a new language, how to do financial planning, Chinese medicine, study skills, writing short stories, etc. You can also use many libraries as your one-stop-shop for personal tech help and trouble shooting, such as figuring out how to use your new laptop, installing software, setting up your ebook reader, learning how to use online social networking sites, etc. Some forward thinking libraries are now also moving in the direction of providing hackerspaces, where you can build your own tools or whatever you want, and share/learn from those in the know.
So are libraries really dying? No, they’re changing. Are books dying? No, their changing too. To say that libraries are dying is to say that information is dying, which we all know is rediculous, especially as we have now moved into an information economy. Libraries are not book warehouses, but rather they are places of learning. As long a people have a drive to learn, libraries will exist. Libraries just need to evolve with the community and get away from relying on nostalgia to stay afloat. But if nostalgia is what you’re looking for, then the library still has many services that will appeal to you too– the difference now is that the library does not simply exist to fulfill its past.