The Many Lives, and Rumoured Deaths, of the Library


Another day, another libraries-are-dead article making the rounds.  This one comes from Techcrunch, a publication I normally enjoy reading for its thoughtful analysis of technology issues, or the latest gadgets.  This time a writer named MG Siegler wrote the following:

A simple link. That’s all it took to unleash a hailstorm of angry emails, messages, tweets, and comments. Why? I dared wonder if libraries will continue to exist in the future.

I mean, it’s not that crazy a notion, right? (If you’re a librarian, you’re not allowed to answer that.)

Well, Mr. Siegler, I work as a Library Technician for a community college.  I take your comment as an invitation to answer that question.  Where do we start?

The whole firestorm began when the Techcrunch writer linked his article to another from another site I enjoy namely Wired.  The article by Art Brodsky entitled The Abomination of Ebooks: They Price People Out of Reading, details issues like pricing for libraries (hint: it’s pricey), and locking an e-book to a certain platform like Kindle.  I get it. I read articles about Digital Rights Management, plus I elected to buy the paperbacks of the George R.R. Martin books after my Kobo copies couldn’t transfer from my Kobo to Samsung.  It threw money down the drain, and I shook my fist at whatever corporate powers locking my books down after I bought them.  (Kobo did send me an e-mail about a workaround for transferring the files.  Trust me it’s not worth the effort and I am all about the effort.)

Between both these articles, both pretty much saying e-books are software than actual books, it’s best to say libraries are DOOMED! (Insert ominous music here.) People can Google, so says Mr. Siegler, a man who works for Google Ventre.  (According to his bio MG Siegler is a general partner at Google Ventures, where he primarily focuses on seed and early-stage investments.)  Overall both articles lack coherence and this comes from a woman dashing off blog posts by the seat of her pants.

Yes, libraries have changed, and continue to evolve.  We don’t have card catalogues, people use Millennium for their easily accessible computers, but reading still remains the driving force.  Libraries still house materials to allow users access and use of them. Millennium has a strong English as an Additional Language section.  Why?  As a newcomer, refugee or not, the money in your back account will go the basics:  food, shelter, and clothing.  Yet, to get ahead one needs to learn English.  What if the person can’t quite their job?  Get to a library for the materials and perhaps a shot at conversation circles at the local branch.

What about the technologically savvy young people.  Yes, they do like their smartphones.  They also like books.  Take a good look at the movies coming out and see the screen adaptations turning characters like Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen into flesh and blood.  Books are dead alright as everyone knows fan fiction springs from an original imagination.

If libraries are so dead why are universities and colleges offering information literacy classes?  If everything is so easy to Google, why can’t students find peer-reviewed articles, even with Google Scholar?  On the surface it sounds like access issues.  (Open access articles does deserve its own post.)  Go deeper and find people still need to talk to somebody about the next book after they’re done with the series, they needs a quiet place to study, or a quick lesson in how to find an article.

Libraries are not about the stuff in them, it’s only one part of the equation.  The rest involves interaction, it involves keeping information free and accessible, and it definitely involves the revolutionary act of reading for the heck of it. In an age of library cuts in schools, public libraries are the line we hold in the battle against ignorance.  Technology isn’t killing libraries as things like social media may help strengthen the relationship.  As Benjamin Giles wrote on March 6 in the Winnipeg Free Press:

Of course, some may ask why they would even bother to go to the library if they can just borrow online. The answer is a library is about more than just the books themselves; it is also about building a relationship between a librarian and patrons, which studies show helps citizens become more engaged with reading. Thanks to technology, this relationship can become stronger than ever.

In a little while another article will surface about the death of the library, with more articles detailing why it’s not.  In reality my post is another drop in the bucket in this debate.  Perhaps what keeps libraries a live is we are still talking about them, thinking about their place, and people still keep saying yes.  If the dialogue was not happening, then the library would truly die as we take it for granted.  To the MG Sieglers of the world, keep saying the library will die, and the lively debate will tell you those buildings with books will still have a pulse.

2 thoughts on “The Many Lives, and Rumoured Deaths, of the Library

  1. As a Library and Information Science graduate student, I agree with the points you made in your post. Information is a commodity and right now, it’s in high demand. Libraries provide access to information and e-books won’t run information organizations to the ground. If anything, they provide library employees with more material to catalogue and add to collections, as well as consider drawing in more patrons by including e-books in their collections. Good post!


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