Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If Libraries=Books, Then Where to Now?

My world has been rocked.

I've long held the belief that Libraries will continue to exist into the future if, for no other reason, people associate libraries with books, and people love reading books. However, I've just come across this blog post that has made the first chip in the foundation stone of my belief in the future of libraries - Libraries for a Postliterate Society.

It's pretty clear that as a brand Libraries are associated with books. The 1995 OCLC Perceptions report makes that point very well. And despite what Amazon and others are doing online I think there is still a broad awareness in the community that Libraries are a good place to track down hard to find books. But what happens if society matures to a point where most people "choose to meet their primary information and recreational needs through audio, video, graphics, and gaming"? Where reading of longer works of fiction and non-fiction is in decline?

The post's author, Doug Johnson, suggests that libraries need to legitimise non-print materials, services and programs (eg. graphic novels, audio, video, gaming, wi-fi) and devote more of our budgets towards them. I don't disagree with this strategy and he is not arguing that libraries should abandon print material. I do, however, cling to the connection between libraries and books.

Are books a fundamental part of what makes a library? If we take the argument of a post literate society to an illogical extreme for a moment, could libraries become a place in the future where books occupy a very minor role? A community space where people come to meet, listen to music, explore their social connections, discuss civic matters but where personal learning and enlightenment through reading is not the primary focus? Would that still be a library?

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Thank you for highlighting this blog post and for writing your blog post about it. It is interesting to look at in relation to the research for the Scenarios for the future of public libraries project which is going on at present.

I think your description in the final paragraph (of a collection-less space) is not of a library. A collection, whether onsite or off, online or off, for reading/watching /listening would seem to be a critical factor in a library actually being a library.

Without a collection the space would still be a valuable community forum, but it would be something else - a community centre, a self help group, a philosophy discussion space - and not a library.

The collection can be in a variety of formats (including digital), but library and collection (or access to a collection which library staff have contributed to the organisation and selection of) are paired. If we move to a post-collection world we might find ourselves in a post-library world.

I think there are ways to meld collections and other aspects to keep both areas relevant to the community. I am interested in libraries who are using games to help people learn about reference and information services - there are a few libraries exploring this. I think there is a place for games and readers advisory work as well - and this brings in a more book based element.

From another perspective the online game of World of Warcraft (with over 11 million subscribers each month) features libraries and book collections within it, and relies on people being able to read to play the game.