Thursday, 5 April 2012

Future Role for Libraries?

Earlier this week I read a blog post which argued that, despite years of projects (eg, to ‘catalogue the web’ by OCLC and others, to set up ‘virtual reference’ services, to provide ebooks, etc) libraries have been largely unsuccessful at becoming the leaders in the new digital information world.  Others, such as Google, Amazon, Library Thing, etc, have had no such difficulties engaging with the public.  If libraries’ forays into the web2.0 world have largely failed, and book borrowing and library visits are declining, then what are libraries for, now?

Another blog post, which I saw yesterday, suggested that “libraries are a technology for free, large scaleinter-generational transfer of knowledge and culture,”.  However, one could easily substitute “the internet is” for “libraries are” in this sentence and it would be equally, or perhaps even more, true. 

Given this background, what is the remaining USP of libraries?  What feature do they have, that the internet cannot offer?  What benefits does this bring?  One obvious one that springs to mind is - a physical space.  A place to congregate.  A place for direct person to person knowledge transfer, collaboration and sharing. 

I think libraries need to consider what activities, related to information and knowledge transfer, can only take place in a physical space.  Those are the activities, and those are the benefits, of libraries that we should be promoting, advocating for and marketing – to users and to potential new users.

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