All through secondary school and beyond, the library was my friend. When I was in seventh through ninth grades, because of transportation issues, I spent an hour before school in the library. It was then I became acquainted with Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and the Brontë sisters. During those years I also discovered The Black Stallion and all his offspring.
As I grew older, I learned the library was a repository for periodicals as well as books. I turned to many of its resources for research.
Now as the book industry feels the effects of the technology revolution, I wonder if libraries have a future. I am fortunate enough to live in a county that utilizes a library share approach. If my very small branch of the library doesn’t have the book I want, they will borrow it for me from one that has it. I also benefit from a substantial church library. We have between 11,000 and 12,000 volumes–from picture books, middle grade and young novels, adult fiction, biographies, other non-fiction, and research tools. All Christian.
But what, I wonder, will happen to these libraries as more books become digitalized? Will each person carry around their own customized library within their ereader? Will Amazon with it’s lender-for-a-fee approach (see Amazon Prime) replace libraries?
Or is there a future for libraries? Can they adapt to the new technology, and even make use of it? I know some are trying by installing computers which can handle research, for instance, and can become a reader for books in the public domain. But what else can libraries do or what should they do if they are to continue?
Will libraries remain for sentimental purposes, as types of museums to a time past where the rare masters can be viewed but not handled? Or will libraries reinvent themselves and become an even greater force in making reading material available to the public at large?
Do we care?
I suspect the answer to that question is the most critical one. If as a reading society, we don’t care about the free availability of reading material on nearly any subject, we may be creating a gatekeeper much more restrictive than any publishing company has been. The materials once available because of our free speech rights and our antipathy to censorship, may simply become unavailable because there is no sales outlet carrying them and no library.
Perhaps I’m crying wolf or shouting that the sky is falling–but of course, you’ll only know those literary references if those stories continue to be available to the public at large. Or if someone in the book or entertainment business figures out a way to make a profit by continuing to produce them. But if libraries are preserved, anyone can read about Chicken Little or the prankster shepherd boy–anyone at all.
So what do you think about libraries? Do you use them? Do you think they have a future? What should libraries do to insure they’ll have a place in society in the future?