Libraries in the future—March 12, 2010
As librarians, the question I and my colleagues are asked most frequently now is not a request for a book or an answer we can find in an encyclopedia. Everywhere we turn now, we are being asked, “What is the future of libraries?” Usually the question is about ebooks and how they will affect our traditional idea that a library is a building with rows and rows of physical books. Will we not need physical libraries anymore if all the books are digital?
I can only say that none of us know the true answer yet. In my opinion, librarians should be early adopters and investigators of technology, not only to help our users of new technologies, but to understand the implications for our institutions. The Holdrege Public Library has a Kindle DX and uses it for subscriptions to national newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. There’s no storage issue for the small library, and readers can enlarge the font size as big as they like or even have the paper read to them through their headphones. Larger libraries are experimenting with ebook readers for the librarians loaded with their most frequently used reference books. Librarians can help customers wherever they are in the library, without referring to the physical book. I believe these are but two great ways to start experimenting with ebooks and incorporating them into our role as access providers.
I admit I am not as well-versed on the various ebook readers or the affect they’re having on libraries as I’d like to be. For the most part, I believe it will take years for ebook readers to be so commonplace that we don’t need lots of physical space in libraries. Laptops are quite cheap now by most standards, but for many in our community, still not cheap enough, as is evidenced by the more than 2,000 computer sessions at the library each month. And for individuals who do purchase their own laptops, they may use the library’s free wireless Internet access, in addition to or instead of purchasing their own service. Every technology is a progress, but every technology also creates a divide, even books! The library is the great equalizer in providing access to information we can’t, or choose not to, purchase for ourselves. I know I couldn’t afford all the picture books, movies and CD’s my daughter consumes in a month, nor would it be practical or ecological!
So for now, know that your librarians are thoughtfully watching the trends in ebooks and carefully pondering our future. And that we firmly believe that no matter what the future brings, we will adapt and remain important and relevant to our community.
And if you already happen to have your ebook reader, I’d love to hear your review and thoughts on the future!