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The Future of Libraries

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The Future of Libraries
Robin Singh Parmar
Thompson Rivers University

The Future of Libraries
Technology (namely, ‘Internet’) has made a very significant impact on our lives. It has brought about those changes that were not even expected. One of the affected yet quite ignored field is the field of libraries. As we continue to go hand in hand with the techno culture, we need to ask ourselves that, are we leaving hands with the library culture?
Slowly and steadily, as we keep watching as mere spectators, we are able to see that technology has replaced ways of doing things. It is a very difficult state to say whether it is an advantage or a disadvantage. There were days when people used to consider libraries as a place of learning but now is more like a community centre. Technology did create a gap which was named as the “digital divide” (S. Coffman 2012).
People today have become so used to this technology that it has become a basic necessity. Sherry Turkle talks about this in her book, ‘Alone together’ published in 2011. Turkle tells us as to how technology was earlier perceived as a substitute has now become the primary source. Turkle argues technology that was earlier used to help us find time has in turn to lead us more and more busy life. We feel that we are free but we are not. Technology had offered us a virtual world, a virtual ‘AVATAR’ of our own self. But as we continue to use it, we are no longer able to differentiate between the virtual and the real. According to Turkle, “We come to see what robots offer as relationships.”
S. Coffman in his article ‘The Decline and fall of the Library Empire’ had mentioned about this digital divide. As per S. Coffman, it started during the 1990’s when the internet was made available to the general public, but was quite expensive. It was inclusive of the costs of a personal computer, a modem, along with an ISP (Internet Service Provider) subscription and a phone line. Back during those days, purchasing every single one of it was quite costly and only a few handful would purchase it thus creating a digital divide. Libraries, thus decided to bridge this gap by providing all such facilities. Writer Will Manley, in his article, ‘Digitised to Distraction’ published in 2013, also claims, that as per librarians, the gap that this digital divide has created can be bridged by using libraries. Fast forward to 2014 and that’s not the same story anymore. For example: during the 1990’s in order for the modem to work it was a must to have a phone line and now we don’t require a phone line anymore.
Technology has eased up our lives in many ways. It has made life more fast and quick. S. Coffman talks about the EBooks and the Electronic library and points out a few differences from the normal libraries. For example: when we go to a library, we would take a book and either read it over there and return it to the librarian or we would take it for a period of time and then we would have to come and return it back. The difference of having an EBook from having a normal book is that we know that a normal book would generally take space and there would be a time limit and then we will have to return it back to the library, but with the EBook we know that there would be no consumption of space (i.e. only on our computers) and it would remain with us till the time we want. It also saves us the time of travelling, to go to the library, getting the book, and once done reading, returning it back to the library.
Let’s take an overview of this situation. What is exactly the library culture? Library culture is nothing but the library’s beliefs, their modes and ways of organisation, their interactions. With the increasing usage of technology this culture is slowly starting to fade away. Earlier libraries were considered the places where people would come to seek information, knowledge. Now they go to the internet. One of the major reason for this transition is that library can provide only the information present with the library and not more. Although today, even libraries provide internet but the way people perceive libraries has changed. Internet is made so easily and freely available to the general public that people would prefer to pay for it rather than go to the library and use it for free.
With the growing amount of EBooks and the vast usage of google as the default search engine, there are a few questions that arise out. Daniel W. Rasmus has pointed out 11 such questions in his article, ‘Uncertainty and the Future of Libraries’ published in 2013. These questions are as follows: 1. How will we access information? 2. How will we represent books? 3. How low, or how high, can computer memory go? 4. How will we represent knowledge? 5. How will we find stuff? 6. What do we hire a library to do? 7. What will we need to know? 8. What will be the role of place? 9. How will we measure success? 10. Who will decide what to trust and what to censor? 11. What rights management model will predominate?
All these questions do arise, when we think about libraries and its future. The main fields that we focus in this research are, Q.2) How will we represent books? Q.6) What do we hire a library to do? And Q.8) What will be the role of place?
To elaborate Q.2) Daniel W. Rasmus speaks about the growing usage of Amazon’s kindle, Apple Ibooks and Kno & Inkling. In a way the writer is actually talking about the growing use of EBooks. This same problem was addressed by S. Coffman in his article, ‘The Decline and fall of the Library Empire’. Both the writers talk about how the virtual books have started replacing the real books. How the physical form has taken to the virtual form. S. Coffman argues that more and more people are attracted to EBooks for reasons like, easy convenience, easy storage and easy availability. Also many EBook vendors such as Amazon, provide the readers with a free title every month.
To elaborate Q.6) the writer argues on the present situation of libraries. He compares the libraries to Starbucks and asks whether the libraries are only a source of Wi-Fi. Are libraries only home to books, or are they curators of knowledge.
To elaborate Q.8) the writer claims that the total readership of EBooks was 23% by a 2012 report made by Pew Research centre’s Pew internet & American Life Project. Rasmus thus questions the physical place of the library and its attributes as the readership of physical books continues to decline.
Another question that arises in the mind is whether it is really time for us to migrate from the Integrated Library System with a next generation option. Kelley, K., Leatherman, C. C., & Rinna, G., in their article, ‘Is It Really Time to Replace Your ILS With a Next-Generation Option?’ published in 2013 talk about a survey that they had made and conclude it by saying that there is no right answer to it as half of the respondents were not even planning to migrate. Although the survey did confirm that many of the respondents did migrate or were planning to.
It is sad yet true that there is uncertainty about the future of libraries. Technology has made a significant impact on our lives, some are good while some are bad. Yet the future of libraries remains in question. As time goes by and as we start to accept the changes, we do not know whether our libraries would survive this transition or no. Whether our upcoming generations would actually be a part of the library culture that we grew up in or will they be forming a new tech-library culture. We do not know what future has in store for us and the same thing can be said for the future of the libraries as well. All we can do is wait and watch.

Annotated Bibliography:
Coffman, S. (2012). The Decline and Fall of the Library Empire. (Cover story). Searcher, 20(3), 14-47.
Kelley, K., Leatherman, C. C., & Rinna, G. (2013). Is It Really Time to Replace Your ILS With a Next-Generation Option? Computers In Libraries, 33(8), 11-15.
Rasmus, D. W. (2013). Uncertainty and the Future of Libraries. (Cover story). Computers In Libraries, 33(10), 4-32.
Manley, W. (2013). Will's World. Digitized to Distraction. American Libraries, 44(1/2), 88.
Turkle, S. (2011). Connectivity and its Discontents. Alone together

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