My subscription to the Berkman Buzz alerted me to the New York Times Room for Debate Series on the future of libraries.
John Palfrey comments on the series, and here are some observations I particularly like:
Why is this even a “debate”?
It’s a debate because too many people think that we don’t need libraries when we have the Internet. That logic couldn’t be more faulty. We actually need libraries more (as Luis Herrera points out) now that we have the Internet, not less. But we have to craft a clear and affirmative argument to make that case to those who don’t work in libraries or focus deeply on their operations. Librarians have to make a political and public case, which is too rarely being made effectively today.
The future of libraries is in peril. Librarians and those of us who love libraries need to make an affirmative argument for investments in the services, materials, and physical spaces that libraries comprise. This argument must be grounded in the needs of library users, today and in the future. The argument needs to move past nostalgia and toward a bright and compelling future for libraries as institutions, for librarians as professionals, and for the role that libraries play in vibrant democracies.
Palfrey outlines ten steps libraries should take to remain vibrant. My favorite is number 8:
Library spaces should function more like labs, where people interact with information and make new knowledge.
The argument that libraries are obsolete in a digital era is faulty. But those of us who love libraries need to make the case for why that’s so. This case has everything to do with libraries finding compelling ways to support education, helping people to learn, thrive, and be the best civic actors we can be. We have to recreate the sense of wonder and importance of libraries, as public spaces, as research labs, as maker-spaces, and as core democratic institutions for the digital age.