“A library is like an island in a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.”
– Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid
Sometimes when I tell people I want to be a librarian, they look kind of concerned and ask me how long I think libraries are going to last…because surely Kindles and iPads are a death-knell for the printed word. Right? Apparently, in the professional world, people are not too worried. I was reading an article in Library Journal that included several interviews with publishers, specifically about the prominence of eBooks. Madeleine McIntosh of Random House says, “No, eBooks are not going to shut us down, any more than paperbacks or audiobooks shut us down. Both of those formats increased the appetite and audience for books, just as eBooks are doing now.”
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what formats of media a library offers. Things change over time, and libraries have handles those changes admirably. If they hadn’t, things would have left off after the scrolls at the Library of Alexandria. I think that the most important thing a library offers is service. People go to libraries because they have interesting events, they offer practical services like test prep or job searching resources in a public library and academic help in a college library, and most importantly, they offer human interaction. My public library at home has self-service scanners like at the grocery store. But I don’t use them. I go to the circulation desk and get a librarian to check out my books, not because I’m lazy or incompetent, but because I enjoy having conversations with actual people, especially librarians.
These things will easily go on in public libraries, because that is where importance is placed. Things are a little less certain in academic libraries, not because of eBooks, but because of the almighty internet. An article on the ACRL TechConnect Blog with the provocative title, “The End of Academic Library Circulation?” addresses that issue. According to the data in that article, enrollment is rising, but library usage is declining. That is certainly understandable. I personally see if I can find what I need on the internet before I head to the library, and often I do find what I need, so there is no need for the library at all. It is, however, very true that much of what is available in print form is not on the internet, especially book-length works rather than journals or articles. But even then, it seems that in many fields, technology is progressing too rapidly for books to be useful, because they become so easily out of date. But I am not making predictions about the future because I don’t know what will happen. I do encourage my readers to use the valuable resources that their library offers, because it’s important to show what you care about with your support (if you do, in fact, care). And anyway, library stuff is free! So why not?