(Reblogged from something I posted here: http://informationonline2013.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-bookless-library/)
This article in The New Republic by David A. Bell is a pretty interesting read about the NYPL and its struggle for a slice of the future, albeit on a much larger and more public scale than ours: http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/david-bell-future-bookless-library?page=0,0
Much of the ground covered in the article will be familiar to those of us interested in the subject matter, i.e. us and our institutions. It is a long read, but it covers issues including the place of books, ebooks, obsolescence of core library functions, “banishing” books from the library proper (to offsite storage), nostalgia for dead-tree books, Copyright & licensing, the consolidation of library spaces, access to knowledge, the evolution of digital formats and digitisation of text, acquisition, “curation” and building design. All in a climate of constant change. Ring any bells?
I do not think that we will become glorified internet cafes, but I do agree that change is afoot and we must change with it. I enjoyed seeing a couple of things in the article, such as: libraries as communities; a nod to the library’s role in the collaborative consumption (of knowledge); and recognition that libraries are a source of crucial expertise, not least with regard to acquisition. David Bell recognises that libraries are “homes to lovingly compiled collections that amount to far more than the sum of their individual printed parts” and recognises that special collections are to be treasured. He almost starts to imagine new roles for us, but stops short of recognising those large public libraries that have already taken such steps such as the British Library (and its BIPC), The State Library of Queensland (and The Edge) and some new programs led by the NYPL itself.
Bell says, and I agree, that the digital revolution is creating the need for more spaces of physical interaction and the easy access to online academic courses will not kill off the desire to rub shoulders with fellow students and professors. He goes on to encourage more partnerships between public libraries and universities and also to advocate spaces in libraries in which readers can organise appropriate activities themselves.
What is missing? I guess some explanation and understanding of the role that librarians have in properly curating their collections as experts. By that I mean researching, acquiring, describing & arranging, promoting, exposing and encouraging the discovery of library collections, no matter what format they are. Being more active in such roles establishes a valued role for the future that cannot be eroded by the march of online services. Also I think he deals with libraries as mostly keepers of text-based, largely monograph collections and therefore he fails to recognise that knowledge and culture these days is not just contained in books and journals. Increasingly, other richer and more engaging media formats are being used for storytelling, as containers of knowledge and for the sharing of ideas. Libraries need to understand this and part of that understanding is a new more proactive research and acquisition process that comes to terms with these new creative practices. Finally, I think he might have touched on our role in encouraging public debate of pressing social issues, in part because we provide access to the knowledge that gives a deeper level of understanding, but also because we are or should be active participants in some of the themes: coping in a digital age; the democratisation of knowledge and opening access to it; and being more sustainable in our daily lives.
Thanks to Hamish Curry @hamishcurry for alerting me to this on Twitter. Let me know what you think if you get a chance.