In case you haven’t read my bio, I am currently in graduate school for library and information science. Recently, I’ve visited my old high school. Upon discovering that I am pursuing this degree, former teachers asked me to forecast the future of libraries. With the rise of electronic information services combined with this charming economic recession, it’s a legitimate question. So, here is the Sinistmer forecast on libraries: overall, I think libraries have a future, but how much of a future is tempered by how much people will value them.
People will ask me, “What about Google? Won’t online search engines just knock out libraries because they have so much information?” Hmm, well, I won’t deny that Google and other search engines do provide tons of information, and, yes, I do use it for a quick look-up on things. However, I would argue that there are two things that happen with search engines. First, there are too many results, and thus too much information. This can lead to information overload, which means that people may not select the best sources. Additionally, there is not a formal evaluation done by search engines, which can lead to results that are perhaps not as reliable or accurate. Google and other search engines find articles by sending out electronic spiders, or crawlers, that look for certain key terms and tags. While the search engine does provide results, they are not checked for quality. I am not saying that Google and other search engines don’t turn up good results, but there are more results that are perhaps of lower quality to sift through. While libraries do perhaps provide fewer sources, these sources also have been evaluated and thus are more reliable than what might be found online. Librarians are trained to evaluate sources and to teach patrons to evaluate the information found. Additionally, librarians can contribute other services, such as help with information retrieval and organization. Part of librarians’ responsibilities is to organize information that they have evaluated as being quality sources. Nothing against Google, but that kind of evaluation simply does not happen on most electronic search engines. These skill sets and services are perhaps the core of why libraries are valuable.
On a side note, I also think right now that technology does not have a strong of a foothold that people think it does. Don’t misunderstand me–technology now plays a huge role in our society, but I think there are enough people who do not much care for technology. Additionally, a large number of the population is not comfortable with technology, or prefers print materials for their free-reading or reasearch. Libraries are still trying to figure out the incorporation of technology, and may also be trying to try to serve as many parts of their populations as possible. As I see it, we are on the cusp of major changes. I think that, at some point, technology will change the definition of a library, but that change in definition does not make libraries any less valuable.
As you can probably tell, I think libraries are pretty awesome. However, my cynical side does acknowledge that the extent that people value libraries is an important factor. I hear all sorts of things about the value of libraries. Some love them, others wonder why bother now that they’ve got Google. I hope that some of what I’ve written here will give you pause to think about what libraries have to offer.