Folks who know me know that my general answer to this question is “No, but….” Unfortunately, my ten minute phone conversation was compressed into a soundbyte that I don’t really recognize, and for that I apologize to anyone who has to defend the idea of the public library against evildoers and naysayers who say “What’s the big deal anyhow? It’s all online.” I don’t think the problems the public library is facing have much to do with the Internet, but they do have a lot to do with the idea of relevance, people’s shifting priorities in tight fiscal times and the whole changing idea of community and public spaces.
For the record, the question I was asked over email was “Do we still need libraries in a digital age?” My email response, which I followed up with a phone call, was this.
Is your question really “Do we still need books in a digital age?” in which case, the answer is more complicated, though ultimately yes.
I guess my question for you is “Whose digital age?” because where I work, at public libraries in Central Vermont, the digital age is unfolding much more slowly and to much less fanfare than it is elsewhere. In a state where only 15-25% of the residents use broadband, the digital age is as much about hurdles and the threat of being left behind as it is about bold and shiny technological innovation and synthesis. Libraries and librarians help people not get left behind by technology, by democracy, and by people who think that libraries and technology can’t coexist and thrive symbiotically.
We need libraries in any age, they’re the human scale measurement for the information age.
Clearly I need media training. Thanks to the prophet for the scan of the article.