Monday, May 19, 2014

Libraries Are Obsolete And Irrelevant!

Now that I've got your attention...

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big supporter of libraries. But the strident cry of "they're no longer relevant" has echoed in my ears more than once.

I hear that we could make better use of the money. That virtual libraries are sufficient for the 21st century. Now, there's nothing wrong with virtual libraries and I certainly make use of them, but...

Real, physical libraries? We don't need those any more. They just take up space. And librarians, too, are being told this. Told they aren't really needed.

Which means that libraries are now answering these criticisms. Some of the answers are already there. Physical books are a valuable archive that needs to be preserved, for example. Great argument, but often countered with "Doesn't the Library of Congress handle that?" (I'd argue that the more places you have a book the better, but...)

So, how do librarians answer these criticisms? The St. Louis Central Library has come up with a great and - so far - unique one. The library has everything you imagine a public library having - stacks of physical books, comfortable places to read them, and computers to check the internet (Note that this is a vital purpose of libraries - you can't apply to any jobs in this area without having to do it online).

But in the basement is another room that contains four huge screens with eight seats around a table. This is the Creative Experience - they're calling it a digital maker space. Each of the pods has an Apple computer which is fully equipped with publishing software - Adobe Creative Suite, Audacity, Photoshop, InDesign, you name it. Many of these packages cost hundreds of dollars or a high monthly subscription. They have all of the hardware you need to record audio as well. Oh, and you can view valuable video tutorials, surf the web and they even have a few games installed. They're in the process of installing a proper sound studio with all of the acoustics, too - likely to be the birthplace of more than one podcast.

New Media people - are you drooling yet? And all you need is a library card to book two hour sessions. Other librarians are looking at what St. Louis has done here.

Irrelevant and obsolete? I think not. And what might libraries have in the future? Are our libraries going to move from being merely places to consume to being places to create?