Posting to Autocat
Ted P Gemberling wrote:
There’s a lot in it that people might disagree with, but this address by Philip Pullman is the most passionate defense of libraries I’ve seen. It deserves to be read widely. My apologies if you’ve already seen it.
I absolutely love libraries and have chosen to devote my career to them. I have said before that I am convinced that it was precisely in libraries where I was finally able to learn to think rationally and where I became a human being. But the situation I have loved is changing, and changing before my eyes. While I agree with every single point the author makes in this article, the more of these sorts of writings I read, the more they strike me as eulogies.
The fact is that libraries are in a state of change, and I think it also clear that libraries are evolving into something different. They are undergoing this evolution not from some type of internal struggle, but as a response to changes in the “environment”. Mr. Pullman mentions something in his article, described in greater depth by the great editor Jason Epstein in his book “Book Business: Publishing: Past, Present, and Future” (a fabulous book!) and in his recent article “Books: Onward to the Digital Revolution” http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/feb/10/books-onward-digital-revolution/ (unfortunately, behind the paywall), the book publishing industry has been in serious trouble for a long time, and for lots of different reasons. In my own opinion, it is similar to the beginning of printing, when so many topsy-turvy changes took place; it turned out that many of the problems those people faced had been simmering away for a long time too; in their case, those problems were inherent to the medieval system, and printing was simply the catalyst that forced people to deal with the problems they had been able to ignore for such a long time.
With the introduction of the World Wide Web, I think matters are very similar: the problems inherent to our system have been around for quite some time, decades perhaps if not more, but it has been a relatively simple matter for people to ignore those problems to focus on other, “more pressing” matters. The web shoves a lot of this in our faces so that we can’t just look away any longer.
Naturally, I want libraries to survive and thrive, but to do so, they must evolve somehow. What does a library *really* provide a community?
Of course, no one can know what final form libraries will take and that form will probably arise through some kind of trial and error–or in other words, similar to survival of the fittest.
Perhaps this is somewhat off-topic for this list, and perhaps not. The catalog has been, and I think, will continue to be, the heart of the library. What will it become? Does the library catalog of today serve the community? If not, how does it need to change? I feel it is vital to answer these kinds of questions since it seems to me that as the catalog survives or is discarded, so will libraries.