Libraries In Today’s Ever-Changing Digital World

1 May

My director handed me this article and thought it might make for an interesting blog post.  The article itself is a book review of John Palfrey’s new book entitled BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google due out in just a few short days on May 5th.  The review can be found in The Washington Post dated April 24th.

I haven’t yet seen the book, so my response is based solely on the review written about the book, but I do believe it’s interesting enough to share.  The book, written by the former head of the Harvard Law Library, John Palfrey focuses on changing how libraries work to ensure their relevance in the 21st century.  Plafrey, a lawyer by trade, not a librarian (which along gives me concern) is specifically talking about public libraries when much of his career was spent in academia calls for a library revolution focusing on combining efforts to provide access to information through digital means to people around the country.

As I said, I haven’t read the book yet, but a few statements pulled out in the review have already riled me up a little bit.  for example, a quote from the book, “For centuries, libraries have remained essentially separate, even competing with one another to establish and maintain the greatest collections.”  Although this may have been something that was more common in the past, our library has an amazing Inter-library Loan system throughout the county and if we can’t find it in the county we go out to the state level!  Any university setting, I’ve been in over the past ten years is amazing at providing information from their own library or emailing me a .pdf file within a few days of a request.  And as for sharing ideas, the Internet has made it extremely easy to share programs, ideas, thoughts, and discussion among librarians I probably would have never met otherwise.

Plafrey goes on to talk about how much of innovation and technology comes from the private, for-profit sector and he asks, “what is the biggest innovation to emerge from libraries in the digital age?”  When you look at the goals of the public library, we as librarians focus our energy on providing materials, programs, and more to our communities, we rarely have time, staffing, or funding to be the ones who innovate and experiment.  Can there be a change in the future, of course, but other factors need to change as well.

I could probably go on and on, but I’ll give one more of my own opinions before wrapping up.  Palfrey states, “Just as we all love a memory of a childhood experience, we love the idea of libraries in general.”  I think this is very common, especially when you talk to adults.  Many will say, I haven’t been to the library in years.  And I’ve had a number of discussions with peers, older adults, and even kids where I tell them what we offer in the library and often their response is, “I didn’t know you could (do, get, see, learn) that at the library.”

I believe libraries need to remain relevant in this technological age, but I also think what we already do is so important – early literacy, after school programs, places for teens and young adults to come and feel safe, adult programming, computer classes, etc.  Yes, the library needs to remain relevant in today’s world, but we also have to do a better job of marketing ourselves to our constituents.  As for BiblioTech, I’d love to take a look at it and see exactly what Palfrey is talking about, he may have some great ideas that can help push the public library into the future.


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