The Future of Libraries in the Digital Age

A library is one of the most important parts of any society because, to some extent, the level of civilization is determined by how the people treat and use their public libraries. As a general consensus, libraries have always been regarded as something like storage of books, where people are allowed to read and even borrow any books they like free of charge. A library is a place filled with quietness and a rather impressive organizational system of books, a perfect place to read and think. But community is constantly changing, and therefore everything that relates to it must change to properly serve more advanced level of civilization. In times where the pleasing invasion of digitized books is underway, library needs to find its place to be considered relevant, again.

During the last few centuries, libraries’ main role has always been to provide books for people. In the dawn of digital age, however, this function is shifting. Instead of providing books as the main sources of information, some modern libraries are giving free public access to computers and the internet. Although the main role of library has not changed with such modernization, some people think that it needs more definitive transformation to become relevant again in the middle of the changing world. It is true that we do not live in times where a library was the only place to borrow books, find information about any historical events, or read references to write an essay. Now, in most cases, all we have to do is to turn on our computers and we are only few clicks away from a gigantic digitized library called “the Internet”. We can read literally everything from the comfort of our homes without borrowing any books. We can now even rent used textbooks from different retailers like Amazon. Even better, it is possible to use our smart phones to borrow a digital book and read it immediately; all can be done without actually visiting any physical building popularly known as a library. Has library become obsolete? Despite the fact that people now consume literature and basically all other contents with more modern methods, library must continue to do its role to provide free access to ideas and information. For any library to keep its place in the digital age, some believe that it has to shift into merely information centers with computers and digitized books, newspapers, journals, CDs, DVDs, and everything. Others insist libraries to keep the books in addition to housing sources of information and devices to access them. For hundreds of years, libraries all around the world have been working closely with book-publishing industries. Publishers give their supports by providing books and allowing libraries to freely distribute the books, without interfering with the nature of libraries as public institutions. Since book-publishing industries are also shifting toward digitized contents demonetization, it is now time for digital technology to show its contributions and play similar roles. There are actually several fundamental supports the digital industry can provide for libraries:
  1. Free access to modern devices: physical books are not the only type of books available today. Contents such as e-books, digital magazines, newspapers, video documentaries, photographs, historical speeches, and everything in between can be accessed with modern devices. Digital industry can provide those devices for libraries free of charge, and therefore libraries are able to serve the public in the way they have always been.
  1. Free access to digital contents: some digital contents, both new and old are not free. In the similar way that publishers provide physical books, they also need to provide access to non-free digitized contents.
  1. Training and support: the way that libraries allow people to borrow books has to remain the same. An open line of communication between libraries, publishers, and digital industry will allow libraries to determine the proper method of books/contents circulations; this may involve a lot of and long-running discussions, but a regulated digital contents circulation is not impossible.
Redefining library The presence of shelves after shelves of physical books is really what comes to mind when we are thinking of a library. To most people, a library is a big storage space for books with some reading rooms and there is nothing digital about it. It is a brick-and-mortar building filled with books that people can access. However, at the very core of its nature, a library is simply just a repository of information. In other words, the presence of physical books and journals is indeed an important factor, but it is not the only factor that actually defines what library really is. Right now, many physical books are probably obsolete because the digital versions are available. More books will be digitized in the future, and reading devices will keep on improving to deliver a comfortable-reading-experience as if we are reading the real actual physical books. But just because physical books are obsolete, it does not mean they are no longer needed; it is just they are not used for the time being. Moreover, redundancy is sometimes a good thing; to be prepared for unfortunate events of natural disasters including flood and fire, the existence of both digitized and physical books will keep the information they contain undamaged. When physical books are damaged, their digitized versions can be used for reproducing the information. Library does need to change its method in order to catch up with the pace of the modern digital world, but everything-digital is not exactly the answer. Library remains what it is, but maybe it is our perspectives towards library that need to change that it is not storage of books, but a repository of information. A close collaboration with book-publishing industry has been the fuel that keeps library running, but now the demands are increasing because new forms of books - the digitized versions of them - are flooding the world. In order to maintain accessibility for the public, library also needs to work with digital technology industry manufacturers to provide reading devices for the community.

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