WoD – The Future of the Public Library

Do you remember your local library?  Let’s travel back in time to when you were a child.  Remember the lobby – as you walked in, you’d see the 4th graders’ science project about the Solar System on display.  Then the librarians behind a low counter, who were supposed to be there to help you but more often than not scared you (“Shhhh!”  They’d be ready to say at any moment…)  Of course, the smell of old books — almost musty, but also comforting in their own way.  The Dewey Decimal System, typed out on the little cards in the card holders near the center aisle.  A few not-very-comfortable plastic chairs and some desks interspersed around the outside walls.  And maybe a 1960’s (or if you were lucky a 1970’s) blue-ish carpet across the entire floor, to help muffle the sounds of kids’ giggles…

Fast forward to today.  I have this old adage about technology.  I used to call it the 2/10 Rule.  Which loosely goes something like this:  in 2 years, new technologies or models don’t get adopted nearly as fast as we might initially think; but in 10 years, they can be adopted in ways we never even thought possible.  Examples of this are things like: the cell phone (now it is old news, but think when you first got one — feels like forever ago, but it probably wasn’t even ten years.  Back then there were zero Blackberries ANYWHERE, no iPhones, no apps, no grandparents had cellphones, etc. etc.); the Internet (or maybe to be more clear we should say Netscape’s IPO in 1996); RFID is likely following this rule; Google; Social Networking (anyone remember Friendster?)…

So I was thinking about our public libraries.  They truly are a great societal construct and our nation is very surely better off for having them in place all these years.  And we all have fond memories of going to our local public libraries as children – we can probably still smell the smells of the old books.

But with the very recent onset (onslaught?) of digital media and digitized content, what is the role of the public library in the not-too-distant future?  Even today, how many of you as adults go regularly to the public library and take out books?  How many of you still think you will go often, ten years from now?

Allow me to introduce into this discussion one relatively new notion:  The Kindle.  (2/10 Rule applies very nicely to this technology, by the way.)  Let’s extend this to all e-readers, since this category is literally exploding around us right now — including the rumored, very cool Apple Tablet to be released in just a few months, which will surely evolve this whole category quite a bit more.  And while we’re at it, let’s add a new, tailored children’s e-book reader into the technological mix, since in truth most of our trips to the library are for children’s books, right?  Who knows, we may all be going to iTunes to “check out and return” books in a lot less than ten years’ time.

So, in this digitized world with e-readers for everyone (certainly for every high school and college students, and maybe even for our young children), what is the role of the old, public library?  And what should be done about this?  Truth is, I don’t know.  But I am pretty sure they will be greatly reduced.  Many may even be gone.  And, sadly, missed…

Monday:

IN MITN DRINEN (ihn MIHTn DRIHNehn)

Suddenly, out of the blue

He’s been away for weeks with his WoD, then, in mitn drinen, he shows up in my RSS…

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1 Response to “WoD – The Future of the Public Library”


  1. 1 Paul Gregson-Allcott March 8, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    One thought I have about this. I read a Kindle and when I attempt to browse by category (especially Science Fiction), I find al lmanner of cheap, badly written and diabolically constructed boks that I have to trawl through before I can actually find what I like to call quality literature.

    This is the major problem with Kindle and it’s ilk. Much like the Internet,much of what it produces is of poor quality.

    So I pose you a question? How will the e-audience be able to trawl through the drivel on offer? How will they find the quality literature amongst the trash?

    Basically, the same way as they always have, by having publishers charge for editing, publishing and producing said quality reads.

    Then, how do you get to read these books for free if they are ONLY available online? Answer would be, quite simply, a digital library.

    However,if Amazon or some other corporation produce this library, they are not going to give it for free. So you will have to pay for it. What will you pay for? The author takes his cut, so does the editor, the publisher takes theirs (or the website) and then it will probably cost about £4.99 minimum because otherwise these people just won’t bother producing more than a few titles unless there is some form of financial return. Sure, publishing costs are cheaper, but books cost very little to make in the first place.

    So basically, to make sure you still get free books, guess what? You will need a state funded digital library, just like before.

    And what will happen to those community based libraries?

    I imagine that those building that support the adult learner who failed at school. Or the parent who never learnt to read. Or the silver surfers of the future who cannot afford to go online. Or the school and college literacy initiatives that help get children reading. Or the thousandsof foreign graduates who utilise free Internetaccess every day. Or the community readers groups, knitting groups, arts and crafts groups. Or the local history, business research, law, patents and science archive resource users. Or etc, etc, etc.

    Well,maybe those buildings will be called libraries and people will continue to go to them to download and read the free digital content, whilst also doing all the other things that libraries already do (see above).

    🙂 Hope that helps.


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