Robert Fulford | June 6, 2016 2:59 PM ET
The philosopher Francis Bacon, looking out at the future from his vantage point in the English 17th century, said that everyone should consider the effect of three inventions that were unknown in ancient times: Printing, gunpowder and the compass. “These three have changed the appearance and state of the whole world.”
Printing was the innovation Bacon put first, and the one that concerns us most in 2016. Printing made the modern era possible by disseminating the books that opened new ways of thinking and encouraged new human aspirations. Under the influence of printing, the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance and modern science all sprang to life. It was a revolution – “the Unacknowledged Revolution,” as one modern historian called it because (despite Bacon) most of the world didn’t understand what was happening.
Today, on the other hand, we know the change that confronts us. The printing era shows signs of coming to an end. Bookstores everywhere are closing down because many people prefer to read books in digital form or perhaps prefer not to read. What is at stake? Literacy, literature and the culture of books, with its vast libraries and its flourishing (but often unprofitable) publishers. All of it is in danger. Read more…
October 28, 2010 Issue
The following talk was given at the opening of a conference at Harvard on October 1 to discuss the possibility of creating a National Digital Library.
The purpose of this meeting is to discuss a question of vital importance to the cultural life of our country: Can we create a National Digital Library? That is, a comprehensive library of digitized books that will be easily accessible to the general public. Simple as it sounds, the question is extraordinarily complex. It involves issues that concern the nature of the library to be built, the technological difficulties of designing it, the legal obstacles to getting it off the ground, the financial costs of constructing and maintaining it, and the political problems of mobilizing support for it.
Despite the complexities, the fundamental idea of a National Digital Library (or NDL) is, at its core, straightforward. The NDL would make the cultural patrimony of this country freely available to all of its citizens. It would be the digital equivalent of the Library of Congress, but instead of being confined to Capitol Hill, it would exist everywhere, bringing millions of books and other digitized material within clicking distance of public libraries, high schools, junior colleges, universities, retirement communities, and any person with access to the Internet.
The ambition behind this project goes back to the founding of this country. Thomas Jefferson formulated it succinctly: “Knowledge is the common property of mankind.” He was right—in principle. But in practice, most of humanity has been cut off from the accumulated wisdom of the ages. In Jefferson’s day, only a tiny elite had access to the world of learning. Today, thanks to the Internet, we can open up that world to all of our fellow citizens. We have the technical means to make Jefferson’s dream come true, but do we have the will? Read more…http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/oct/28/can-we-create-national-digital-library/
Of the many institutions suffering through the world’s metamorphosis from analog to digital (real to virtual, offline to online), few are as beleaguered as that bedrock of our culture, the public library. Budgets are being slashed by state and local governments. Even the best libraries are cutting staff and hours. Their information desks are seemingly superseded by Google, their encyclopedias are gathering dust. And their defining product, the one that lines their shelves, now arrives in the form of a weightless doppelgänger that doesn’t require shelves.
In the technocracy, all the world’s information comes to us on screens—desk, pocket, wrist, goggles—and no one trudges through wind and rain with library card in hand to find a single worn object. After all, when you want the text of Magna Carta, you don’t track down the original. Same with books? “Libraries are screwed,” said Eli Neiburger, a Michigan library director, in a much-quoted presentation at a Library Journalconference in 2010. “Libraries are screwed because we are invested in the codex, and the codex has become outmoded.”
So is the library, storehouse and lender of books, as anachronistic as the record store, the telephone booth, and the Playboy centerfold? Perversely, the most popular service at some libraries has become free Internet access. People wait in line for terminals that will let them play solitaire and Minecraft, and librarians provide coffee. Other patrons stay in their cars outside just to use the Wi-Fi. No one can be happy with a situation that reduces the library to a Starbucks wannabe.
Perhaps worst of all: the “bookless library” is now a thing. You can look it up in Wikipedia.
For all the concern expressed about the imminent demise of the college library, there may never have been a time when librarians seemed more vital, forward-thinking—even edgy—than they do now.
It’s a dated reference, but today’s information professionals often remind me more of Ian Malcolm, the “chaos theorist” played by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park (1993), than of the eyeglass-chain-wearing librarians of yore, if they ever existed in significant numbers. (I have seen only one, Mrs. Evelyn, from my elementary school in the early 70s.)
It’s not that many of today’s librarians routinely dress in sunglasses and black leather (though some do). It’s that, more than any other class of professionals in higher education, librarians possess a comprehensive understanding of the scholarly ecosystem. They know what’s going on across the disciplines, among professors and administrators as well as students. No less important, they are often the most informed people when it comes to technological change—its limits as well as its advantages. Read more…
The two library-related questions I hear most are:
1) Will ebooks replace print books in the near future?
2) How is the digital revolution changing the mission of libraries; what will academic libraries become in the future?
The first question frustrates me on a number of levels, primarily because I hear it so often. The question is asked either in a tone of horror at the thought that the Era of No More Print Books is imminent, or with a bit skeptical cynicism, wondering who would choose to be a librarian in an age when you might soon become “irrelevant” (sigh). My pat responses are: this shift isn’t happening as fast as originally anticipated, print books continue to have lasting power beyond device lifetime and software upgrades, and ultimately the ebook format isn’t killing literature, it’s simply another format in which to digest the content of books. Cultures originally related stories and information orally before turning to stone and scrolls, then becoming books. Books have remained in essentially the same form for centuries because they are cheap, portable, and when printed on quality materials can be preserved for eons. However, stories and information will last beyond the medium of the print book. This is simply a change in format: like VHS to DVD to Blu-ray. Yes, there are other issues inherent in this conversation (for instance, the relative cheapness of a paperback to buying an ereader), but that’s as far as I want to get into that issue now. Read more…
- The Future of Academic Libraries. (futurelibrary.blogs.latrobe.edu.au)
- Getting the most out of Academic Libraries – and Librarians. (graemeo28librarianbiker.wordpress.com)
- Job Hunter’s Web Guide: Academic Library Jobs (hiringlibrarians.com)
- Are academic libraries talking to researchers? Do researchers know what academic libraries are doing? (futurelibrary.blogs.latrobe.edu.au)
- The purpose and future of academic research libraries (mbanks.typepad.com)
- What is the Librarian’s role? Are Librarians Totally Obsolete? (futurelibrary.blogs.latrobe.edu.au)
- Academic Librarians and Higher Ed: Outreach (hedtdl.wordpress.com)
- Learning Badges: A solution to growing library instruction programs? (azlaculd.wordpress.com)
- Around the Web: Everyone is angsty in higher ed, not just librarians [Confessions of a Science Librarian] (scienceblogs.com)
Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations
Summary of Findings
Younger Americans—those ages 16-29—exhibit a fascinating mix of habits and preferences when it comes to reading, libraries, and technology. Almost all Americans under age 30 are online, and they are more likely than older patrons to use libraries’ computer and internet connections; however, they are also still closely bound to print, as three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older.
Similarly, younger Americans’ library usage reflect a blend of traditional and technological services. Americans under age 30 are just as likely as older adults to visit the library, and once there they borrow print books and browse the shelves at similar rates. Large majorities of those under age 30 say it is “very important” for libraries to have librarians as well as books for borrowing, and relatively few think that libraries should automate most library services, move most services online, or move print books out of public areas.
At the same time, younger library visitors are more likely than older patrons to access the library’s internet or computers or use the library’s research resources, such as databases. And younger patrons are also significantly more likely than those ages 30 and older to use the library as a study or “hang out” space: 60% of younger patrons say they go to the library to study, sit and read, or watch or listen to media, significantly more than the 45% of older patrons who do this. And a majority of Americans of all age groups say libraries should have more comfortable spaces for reading, working, and relaxing. Read more….