The internet is big. Really big. You have no idea how amazingly, mind-boggingly big it is. You may think War and Peace is a big read, but that’s just peanuts to the internet (cue Douglas Adams engaging in grave-rolling type activities)…..
So much on-line content is now created, because anyone can create on-line content. Information was once scarce. Information was hand-written onto scrolls, codices, and later printed into books. The rate at which books have been published has gone up markedly over the last decade as printing techniques have become more automated, so even in the traditional printed realm we are drowning in information.
Libraries, like all gatekeepers depend on a relative scarcity of information to thrive. Libraries were important in the ancient world as a means of disseminating and as a means of preserving information. In order to make sure that everyone could access that information we (libraries) controlled who could access it, and for how long, which depended on who provided the funding (the local city council, a university, a law office, a school). We were on the whole good at it, and rightly proud of what we could provide.
Thanks to tutescin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tutescin/3797594257/
But what happens to gatekeepers when the gates can be bypassed?
Thanks to Kordite: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kordite/2975689845/
So a person with a computer can access information on most kinds of things. Not everything: everything is not yet on-line. But enough to be getting on with. So if the body funding the library decides to ditch the books, what happens to us, the library staff?
It won’t happen, I hear you cry? It does, and has. For example, this, and this. Now, is that wise? Well, maybe not necessarily, but if things move that way then thery need to be dealt with, rather than simply decried. I wonder whether decisions to take books out of school libraries might be resisted more strongly in Australia, but if educationn trends move away from the printed page then fewer books in favour of more digital (and importantly, more interactive) stuff is going to happen sooner or later.
What then is the library’s future long-term? I think that libraries will still be an important part of the community in my lifetime, but in historical terms we are I think on the cusp of a new era. I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment which touches on a lot of this stuff, which I’ll share over the next few posts.