Libraries in an Information Age

April 18, 2014

Whenever you hear the word library, what is the first thing that pops into your head? For most people, it connotes a musty room or building with many, many books, a few other media sources such as magazines or microfilm, possibly a computer or two, and a quiet place to read. What if I told you that libraries are about information first and foremost?

Over the last few years, the media has been decrying the end of the book, saying that books and publishing are no longer viable businesses and that we will see the end of printed media in the not-so-distant future. Newspapers and book publishers are cutting staff or going out of business and, as a result, we will soon see the end of publishing. If that is the case, what happens to libraries?

First, the demise of the book is greatly exaggerated, as is the end of newspapers, magazines, etc. The printed word will still be available; it is just that it will have fewer venues. The companies that seem to be doing the best are the ones who follow a customer-oriented business model, giving consumers what they want. People want digital books. People want printed books. People want printed periodicals. The successful businesses are providing both digital and printed works because there is a demand for them.

Libraries operate on the same customer-service model. Public libraries are buying fiction as both printed and digital works for the use of their patrons. Reference work is conducted both digitally and via paper copies. (Yes, librarians do use Google for information requests: it is a great starting point for reference questions and provides access to a large collection of reference materials that few libraries can match. One can then move on to reliable sources for information.) Libraries are becoming thought of as more than just book storage; they are now being thought of as information centers.

Library as information center is not a new concept. People are just becoming more aware of it as more media options become available. Because books were essentially the only media for several hundred years, the conception of library as book repository took hold. But libraries have always been about information, and as more information types become established, different ways to handle the information and the media that the information is stored upon are being developed. And who better to establish these methods than those who are experienced in information handling?

Libraries have been around as long as books have been around, and it is natural that when you think of one, you think of the other. It is time, however, to begin thinking beyond just the book and think about what libraries provide you: information.