Friday, May 11, 2012

What makes a library a library?

A friend and I were having a conversation today about libraries.  There is a new shift in the purpose and functions of libraries these days.  This is necessary to stay useful and needed some argue, but others disagree.  Some people believe libraries are meant to be physical locations that house books and people can come into the physical building and pick up a physical book and take it home.  Other people don't believe that the physical aspect of a library is as important as what a library stands for, which is providing a way for people to access information.  Isn't it?

With the digital age upon us these debates and similar ones have popped up everywhere, and not just in libraries, we are talking all areas of disciplines and business.  Some people don't care as much about the container or how they get the information just as long as they get it and it is easy and convenient.  For some people who have struggled or maybe not even tried to jump on the progressively fast moving technology bus, something a bit more traditional may be easier.  Some people just have old fashioned taste others would say.  Is it right or wrong whether a person reads a book on their kindle vs an actual physical book off a shelf?  In my opinion no, but that is just my opinion.  Sure I have a preference but that is my personal feelings.  Yes mine is to the physical book, I like them and there is nothing wrong with that. If I need information fast though and easiest quickest way to get it is through an e-book, I will use it no problem. 

There is a shift to digitize everything these days. There are pros and cons to this.  Some things cannot be digitized due to copyright for one, which could cause major problems.  Some things are not in a condition to be digitized.  Some people may consider things to not hold the same value in digital form. Plus there are always risks of hacking, viruses, or crashes; then all could potentially be lost.  Good back up systems are necessary.  Sometimes the best backup system is the actual physical item, or as some would argue it is the other way around: the digital copy is a backup to the paper copy. 

There are full electronic libraries and they can be used without a person walking into a physical space.  Some people may not consider that to be a library, just an electronic database.  In a sense I think a library and a database could be argued to be one in the same.  Both are places that hold lots of content, just on different levels and physicality.  These digital libraries are just as prevalent today as a traditional library, it just offers information in a different format. 

There are also libraries that are now being designed without books, or very little space devoted to books. These are places that have an emphasis on technology and digital learning spaces. They also have an emphasis on collaborative work spaces.  These are new trends of user needs in libraries, particularly in academic libraries.  Many libraries are trying to find a way to accommodate this and that is causing much debate and sparking intense conversations amongst the community.  Some people are torn, others are accepting and taking this on head first, while others are fighting in the opposite direction. 

How will things turn out? Progression in my opinion doesn't usually turn back, it just changes.

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