February 16, 2010

Books are not going to disappear from libraries

Student views of libraries are apparently all over the map when asked by the New York Times whether libraries need books anymore... but I think that's always been the case. Libraries serve multiple constituencies, and if you had phrased the question differently in different eras and for different media -- for example, "do libraries still need to stock cassette books-on-tape?" -- you'd have very different responses. Yes, public libraries still carry and loan audiobooks, though they're no longer on cassette tapes. 

Patrons like what they like, and librarians always have to figure out the right mix. Fundamentally, "books or ebooks" is the wrong question from the standpoint of library administration. It's going to be a mix of books, periodicals, audiobooks, video material, computer access, reference services, public space use, and outreach for public libraries and a different mix (but still a mix) for academic libraries.

From a public standpoint, too, "books or ebooks" is the wrong question. Funding public access to information is one of the best investments in the future I can think of. Yes, I think of libraries as part of the "constellation" of educational institutions (to borrow from Larry Cremin), and no matter how I may cringe when certain ones are used by students, it's better to nourish more sources of information than to be stingy.

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Posted in Education policy on February 16, 2010 8:51 AM |