As libraries across the country face financial cut-backs while struggling to keep up with the latest technology, it’s not surprising that many people believe that the new digital age is slowly pushing the library system into extinction.
And yet, there are just as many die-hard believers in the library who still choose to peruse shelves of books rather than purchasing a Kindle or who enjoy researching material in a library as opposed to the Internet.
It doesn’t take very long to name just a few ways in which the library is still very much needed in the 21st Century.
The Internet isn’t free
As a college student I was able to access, with my student information, a plethora of online databases, academic research papers and academic journals. However, try to access this information on your own from your home computer and you’ll quickly find that you have to sign up for expensive subscription accounts in order to do so.
The best way to be able to access these journals and databases is by having a library account. Through the library system you can quickly and easily access all the research material you need…for free. And this material is a lot more credible than Wikipedia.
Digitization is going to take a long time
Not everything can be found for your Kindle. It’s expensive and complicatied and it’s going to be a very long time before everything you want to read can be available for download.
In 2002, Larry Page boasted that Google could digitize approximately seven million books in six years. By 2007 they had digitized a million books. If you are able to digitize a half a million books a year, it’s going to take about 200 years to digitize all 100 million books in existence.
Libraries are more than books
Sure, you can go to Redbox and get a movie for $1 but usually it’s just the latest releases. You can still go to the video store and pay $3 a movie. Or, you can go to your local library are get an array of movies including fiction, non-fiction, new releases, BBC shows and PBS specials…for free.
At my local library you can take out an unlimited amount of DVDs. Some libraries only allow you to take 3 or 4 out at a time. But you get them for a whole week. There’s no need to feel like you have to rush home, watch them, and rush back out to return them.
There’s also the Internet. Not everyone can afford the Internet, including the elderly or unemployed. But with a library card, you can access the Internet, check your email, work on your resume, or update Facebook…for free.
You can also find a wide range of CD’s including soundtracks, musicals, pop, jazz, Christian, and rock. What better way to check to see if a CD is worth buying than checking it out from the library?
There are also many programs for people of all ages. Book clubs, computer classes, resume classes, story times for babies and children, photography classes, and so much more. You can find classes for seniors, teens, adults and children. The library is a wonderful way for people of all ages to meet and interact while learning new things.
Choose a library, any library
In my county, if you find an item that you want but it isn’t available at your local library, you can have it ordered from a library where it is available. It’s quick and easy to go online and use one search box to search all the libraries in the county. You can also choose which library you would like to pick the item up at. I’ve ordered some of my favorite television shows like the “Big Bang Theory” and “House” from other libraries and had them sent to the one closest to me. I’ve even found old favorites like “Punky Brewster” and “The Facts of Life” both of which I’m pretty sure I won’t find on Netflix.
The Internet is a mess
The Internet is a free-for-all. It can be hard to distinguish what’s true and what’s not. Many people view Wikipedia is the be-all-end-all for information, but as my college professor said in regards to the Internet and research, “Wikipedia is a good way to get started but I wouldn’t want to end there.” I knew journalism professors who probably would fail you if you used Wikipedia as a legitimate source. Anyone can update and edit that Web site and yet people still treat it as if it’s the absolute truth.
The wealth of information and the spontaneity of the Internet can be a good thing, but it also needs to be taken with a great deal of discernment. If you need more logical, legitimate resources that have been published and then vetted by a professional staff, then the library is still your best bet. Discernment is still needed because almost anyone can get anything published, but I would trust an educated librarian a lot more than a bored teenager sitting in his bedroom updating Wikipedia.
Ray Bradbury, author of “Fahrenheit 451,” has spoken out in favor of libraries and has attended library fundraisers in California. His opinion on the Internet?
“Yahoo wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.’ “It’s distracting,” he told the New York Times. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”
Although the Kindle and other eBooks have their place in the reading world, especially if you travel or take the bus to work and don’t want to carry a bunch of books, there is still something quite special about holding a physical book.
It’s disconcerting to imagine what it will be like when we have digital picture books for children. I grew up with pop-up books and can’t imagine that will go over well digitally. I don’t know if I would love books as much as I do if all I had as a child were digital files.
Technology is a wonderful thing, but a library can give you face-to-face interaction with people of all backgrounds whereas you don’t always know who you’re talking to online. A library encourages real communication.
Sadly technology seems to be encouraging people, especially the younger generation, into communicating with one another from the privacy of their own bedrooms. Nobody talks on the phone anymore; they text. Nobody plays board games anymore; now teens play video games with each other, not in the same room, but online through the Internet or their Xbox.
My graduate school professor, who also works for a local advertising agency, told us about how he receives cover letters from high school graduates filled with texting lingo instead of proper grammar. It’s no wonder some young people lack social etiquette and can barely spell. We’re raising a new generation that’s going into the workforce unable to communicate appropriately.
Technology has its place in our world, but I’m not so sure it can or will give people the education and experience that they will find when they embrace their local public library.
“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury has said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
A Literary Legend Fights for a Local Library, the New York Times