Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Library in a Digital Age

Let’s take the Library remove all the books and replace them with technology, networks and create a learning and information environment. No more books, shelves or even physical libraries, just a connection to the web. It sounds far fetched and it could never happen, or could it?

How many libraries do you need in a virtual world?

A prep school in New England, Massachusetts is taking the bold step and investing in a $500K learning centre. The new facility will be ‘bookless’ and have flat-screen TVs, a coffee shop, study cubicles and 18 Amazon Kindle and Sony e-book readers for student to use while in the library. The head James Tracy doesn’t see this as anything but a natural evolution similar to that from scroll to books. He even will donate his unwanted cast off books to local schools and libraries to make space for his Brave New World.

So do we want libraries to be divorced of books or be a mixed environment? It may appear logical to remove the books to make way for technology but it begs the question why even have a learning centre? Why not enable the students to work from anywhere, anytime on any technology? This school may be at the forefront and may have taken action that many would see as unacceptable, but we must now question what is a library, albeit it being aligned to a school, community, institution, corporate whatever? Where libraries merely based on the need to aggregate physical books or to act as a centre for information, search and discovery, learning and entertainment? When we have thought that one through we then need to work out the economic model of who pays for what and can books remain free within a library.

Why would any consumer buy an ebook when they can get the same free from the library whilst sitting in the same armchair?

We get engrossed in discussing the pbook versus the ebook, the pspace versus the espace or even the role of librarian, but what we should be discussing is the future of the library in the digital age.

No comments: