What will be the Library Future?

Now a days everyone went to ‘Google’ for anything they want to know, so if the first option is google, what will be the future of the library?” This tired question has been endlessly debated in the library community from about 1999 onwards. It reminds me of the buzz in the education community, back when computers were predicted to replace teachers outright, or the idea that VHS tapes would kill cinema attendance. The problem with this question is that it only looks at one facet of library services and forgets all others. It is not about “Google vs. the Library“. What I think you are referring to is more about “Google vs. Ready Reference“. The battle is over for that one – Google beats out library ready reference every time. ‘Ready reference’ describes questions such as “what is the population of Switzerland?” , or “How tall is the Empire State Building?”

 


The deeper levels of research require deeper analysis and casting a wider net. Scooping the first ten links off Google is not proper research. I’m not knocking Google – like everyone I use it constantly and it’s fantastic at what it does. But it’s not the magic bullet for everything research and it is not the destroyer of libraries. Real research means looking in several sources – books (physical or e-), journal articles, conference papers, archives, historical documents, etc. A Google search is also limited to the keywords you provide – and many times you are using ineffective keywords. Libraries present a browsing environment that brings together information you wouldn’t have thought to search for. The collections of the world’s libraries are incredibly rich and varied – and will only become more accessible to everyone as books and information are digitized. Everybody wins!
Libraries are becoming more proactive in presenting information, rather than waiting to be asked – particularly in academic environments. I predict that the Reference Desk might disappear, but libraries will not. Library staff will upskill and become more embedded in academic departments – essentially leaving the library environment and becoming information specialists for their “clients”.

 


This “libraries vs. Google” question is so oversimplified, it overlooks the essential role of libraries in providing specialized services to their local communities. We are forgetting how libraries level the playing field in a less economically “fair” society, providing lifelong learning and information access to the less economically privileged. We are overlooking the importance of the library as a physical space, in a world where “third places” are becoming more important. These issues are so huge that I won’t attempt to discuss them here. But to abandon the idea of libraries just because of sites like Wikipedia or the success of Google – that’s just short-sighted.

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