It seems some librarians don’t like being told that the library is ending, whatever that means, at least according to this article in Techcrunch, The End of the Library, where the writer defends himself against librarian backlash for suggesting that libraries as we know them today won’t exist soon.
He hasn’t been in a library in ten years and explicitly asks librarians not to comment, so you can tell it’s your typically well informed article about the contemporary library.
Supposedly, “it’s hard not to imagine a future where the majority of libraries cease to exist — at least as we currently know them.”
That makes sense, and even some librarians don’t want libraries to exist as they do now. They want community centers and maker spaces and other such stuff.
Then again, it’s not hard to imagine just about any future at all. It’s not hard to imagine paper books remaining popular for another century. Two can play at this game.
But sure, libraries as we know them might be gone sooner than we think. I’ve even made the same argument myself, recently published in a book, Library 2020: Today’s Leading Visionaries Describe Tomorrow’s Library. I am, it seems, a leading library visionary.
I was asked to contribute by the editor, Joe Janes, a professor at the University of Washington and a columnist for the other AL. I haven’t seen the book yet, but I’m in there with a whole bunch of people writing about the future of libraries.
My piece is about how the transition from physical media to digital media spell the end of the traditional public library. To give you a taste, here are my opening and closing bits:
The library in 2020 will be just like the library today, except without all the books, movies, and music.
The library won’t be a bad place at all. In fact, it will still be a good place, of central importance for the community. It just won’t quite be a library anymore.
You’ll have to read the essay to figure out how I got from one to the other, and it’s not because the Internet has replaced everything. That’s the kind of thing that uninformed tech writers say.
For example, “The internet has replaced the importance of libraries as a repository for knowledge. And digital distribution has replaced the role of a library as a central hub for obtaining the containers of such knowledge: books.”
Huh? That’s one of those claims by people with shallow information needs who don’t know much about the information universe. It says a lot more about the ignorance of the writer than the availability of information on the Internet, since most of the deep information on the Internet is locked behind paywalls, which usually require a library acting as a “central hub” to make that information available to individuals.
Besides, are books really the main repository of knowledge, especially in college libraries?
The guy, by his own admission, hasn’t used a library since college, and so once again we get someone who doesn’t use libraries at all telling us that libraries are going away because he doesn’t use them or understand how they work.
“But even then, ten years ago [in college], the internet was replacing the need to go to a library. And now, with e-books, I’m guessing the main reason to go to a library on a college campus is simply because it’s a quiet place to study.”
It’s hard to say what’s going on here. Does he mean “the internet” as a substitute for “a library” because so many library materials, especially journals, are available even if you don’t visit an actual library building?
Because unless he means that, the statement doesn’t make a lot of sense. And if he does mean that, then people are still depending on libraries.
The “main reason” to visit college libraries has probably always been to study, so that’s not much of a guess. But unless students aren’t checking out physical books, or ebooks outnumber physical books – neither of which will be true for a long time to come – then even the traditional use of libraries will stay around.
It’s not like students are going to start relying on Amazon, even for ebooks. Someone paying $9.99 or less for the latest bestseller has a different motivation and budget than students working on research papers.
The irony is that “the library,” whatever that is, will inevitably end. It just probably won’t be the way pundits who don’t know anything about libraries think it will be.