News: The Future of Libraries

2012-08-25 11:22:AM ago by nicole.boyce

When I was a child, my mom would take me to Amazon.com each Saturday and sit me amongst musty search bars to select a dog-eared e-book from the shelves.
 
Wait.
 
In an age of growing e-book popularity, my childhood memories of public libraries are becoming increasingly antiquated. These days, millions of people own e-readers, and e-books have surpassed traditional book sales in some areas of the market. With this in mind, there’s been a lot of discussion about the future of the public library. What role, if any, will libraries play in a technologized literary climate? Is there a place in the e-book era for traditional libraries? Or is it time to stamp our covers and move on?
 
Some argue that libraries are a waste of tax dollars. After all, if the information is accessible from home, why pay the heating bills? And considering that my primary memories of libraries consist of paying late fees, thumbing encyclopedias, and signing out Sweet Valley High books, are these buildings still relevant now that anyone can read Sweet Valley synopses on Wikipedia for free?  
 
To answer these questions, we first need to look at a library’s purpose. What is a library? Is it a means of accessing books? A means of accessing librarians? A public space for meetings and discussions? A cultural hub? An educational outlet? A nice place to spend an afternoon? All of the above?
 
When you look at the big picture, it’s clear that the value of libraries goes beyond physical borrowing. So what is the future of libraries as we know them? Is digitization the key, as was the case for U of C’s new Taylor Family Digital Library? Or does the future lie in increasing e-book selection and community programming while still focusing on physical collections?
 
With recent articles on volunteer libraries, mini libraries, and library activism in the news, one thing seems clear: the future of libraries will be one of interaction and innovation, as book lovers come together to re-envision these beloved spaces.

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