\"library\"I came across this blog post talking about the closure of large numbers of libraries in the UK and I also watched a video about  a man crying over a library closing in Philadelphia so perhaps you have thought of this question in one way or another: who needs libraries when we have the Internet anyway?

Before I continue, let me clarify that I am not against libraries. During high school, I spent majority of my free time in the library reading periodicals and science journals. I just want to reflect on this  because I have been asking this burning question at the back of my mind for years.

Perhaps the old libraries that we are familiar with are fast becoming obsolete. You can\’t really blame the statistics when most people rather user the Internet to search for information rather than flip books and search catalogs. Most of our local libraries are not catching up with the technology and there are increasing number of online alternatives which provide basic reference already.

Even before I started pre-school, my parents already bought me a mini library. It is a set of Encyclopedia Britannica with 30 volumes. There are 100,000+ articles spread across the volumes but I have probably read less than 100. To think that encyclopedias are so freaking expensive, we could have bought a digital library or lifetime e-library subscription for a fraction of the cost. Google have indexed more than a trillion web pages and Wikipedia have at least 3 million articles, and both are free.

It\’s common nowadays that people google things they don\’t know about and when school kids do their homework they use Wikipedia. Generally, it is only when students enter college that they appreciate libraries more because citing periodicals and scholarly materials is important to make their thesis research credible.

It seems inevitable that books will be replaced by e-books and library catalogs by e-library catalogs compatible to any mobile devices like iPhone, iPad or Android phones but I don\’t think we should have less libraries. You should read more about Library innovation for the knowledge society written by Kirsten Drotner. I have reproduced the table here for the summary.

Table 1: Library innovation and socio-cultural conditions

Industrial society Information society Knowledge society
Aim of library use Cultural discrimination (taste) ==>
Personal relevance of cultural choice
Universal and free access to information ==> Information literacy Universal and free use of information and fiction ==> Multimodal literacy
Definition of library/librarian Cultural custodian ==> Cultural guide Information disseminator Knowledge facilitator
Definition of material/content Material entity, physical artifact Non-material process ==> Effective, reliable information processing Material artifacts and non-material processes ==> Information and fiction
Definition of user Receiver of choice ==> Cultural consumer Information producer and evaluator Knowledge producer, cooperator and cultural citizen

Public libraries can build on those trends by redefining the physical libraries as informal knowledge centres and by developing their professional competences in close collaboration with other knowledge partners both in the private and public sectors

Will Google put libraries out of business? Yes and No. As Rich McCue put it on his topic about Google vs. The Library , Google and the internet have already put some libraries out of business by providing basic reference material; however, libraries in the future will be the primary sources of high quality and expensive research databases like Pub Med and difficult-to-get online journals. Two examples are Yale Medical Digitization and Michigan Digitization Project. It\’s interesting to note that Google is helping University of Michigan to digitize the entire print collection of the University Library using Google Book Search.

The future of libraries depends on innovation and we will see a lot of libraries undergoing digitization for the coming years. I also encourage everyone to support your local libraries. Read books!

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