The Death of Library?

by Elizabeth on November 17, 2010 · 1 comment

in librarians, librarianship, libraries

Yesterday, Andy posted his response to an article from ZDNet, that addressed the digital divide that could occur (and to some extent is occurring all ready) when libraries die due to everyone going all electronic and ebooks and ereaders taking over the world. While the digital divide is something interesting that should (and probably will) be addressed at another time, I want to focus on the first part.

Are libraries really dying?

Last summer I attended a session on Library 2.0 at the American Libraries Association’s annual conference. One of the speakers brought up an interesting point about how the library is dying. At first, I really disagreed with him. Library stats are on the rise, especially in this not-so-great economy, right? People are discovering it’s more economical to check out a book than to buy one, right? I read someplace the other day that libraries lend more movies than Netflix! So things are okay?

Well, if libraries are dying then doesn’t that mean people aren’t reading? One only has to look Amazon’s revenue to know that isn’t the case. Books are still being read, they are just being bought at low prices. Clearly, ebooks are becoming a huge market, because those numbers are pretty incredible. So if people are reading and watching movies, why are libraries on the decline?

The problem for libraries is that our society is lazy. We’ve gotten used to Amazon (or your choice of book vender) delivering the book to your front door or to your ereader. People aren’t thinking they can hop over to the local public library to find an old movie to watch tonight; they prefer to wait for Netflix to drop in their mailbox rather than leave the house. No one thinks about the resources of your local public college or university, instead they jump on Google and find the Wikipedia page for whatever research they need to complete. Who is thinking that the library is a great place to go to find the latest Wii game?

If we step back for a minute and really think, circulation numbers are high enough that, even in the light of all this digital awareness and laziness, enough people are going to the library and taking advantage of all the free stuff. So libraries, at least the check-out-books-and-movies part of libraries, aren’t going to die any time soon.

The real question is, however, is anyone using the library for information? Why go to the library and ask a reference librarian when you can find the answer to your question on Google? Why bother leaving your dorm room when everything you need to write your paper can be found online? Even in my hospital library, I see this. More often than not, my users do their searching via Google and then ask if I can find these really random obscure journal articles because that’s the results Google yielded them. Instead of doing the smart thing and using PubMed (or even Google Scholar!), they are taking the easy path to information.

So what can we, as librarians, do to prevent the death of the library in the face of all the free online information (regardless of the quality) and sheer laziness that has taken over our society? Is the death of the library preventable or are we just waiting the inevitable?

I don’t know the answer to this question. We’ve all been thinking about it, talking about it, and blogging about it, but no has the answer, and no one probably ever will until the end is upon us. Or we will never answer the question because the library is still alive and kicking.

Right now I believe the best option to prevent the death of our own libraries is to advertise what you have. Let the people in your community know what’s out there and how they can take advantage of it.

Have a great collection of genealogy records that no one uses? Speak to a local group about sponsoring a “find an ancestor” day or something to that effect in your town. Publicize the event to the extreme via your website, your blog, your Twitter, whatever you use. Don’t have an updated website, a person to blog, or a Twitter account? No fear, this is the perfect opportunity to establish one. But even the best websites, most insightful/informative blogs and Tweets go unnoticed if you don’t advertise them. Make sure everything that carries your library’s name on it has your website. Make sure your website is clearly labeled and consistently updated with news and events. Create a facebook page; anything to get your name out there and people in your library.

Tons of people don’t use the public library because they don’t know what’s available to them. I bet there are a lot of people in your community who don’t know they can check out video games or schedule a personal research consultation. They probably forgot that you have a ton of books/articles/magazines on job hunting, resume writing, and interviewing techniques. More than likely, there are a good number of elderly in the community who want to get online, but don’t know how. They aren’t aware that you teach (or could if you had enough people sign up) free classes about using the computer and the Internet.

Special and academic libraries have their own ways of advertising and attracting new users. They probably have less to worry about because someone has to stay around to order, pay, and organize all those electronic resources, but getting out into the community, whether it’s a local community college, major research institution, law firm, hospital, or whatever (the possibilities are endless!), and promoting your services are the best way to get new people into the library while still continuing to provide excellent service to your current users.

Do you think the library is dying? What are you doing to prevent it?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 agnosticmaybe November 19, 2010 at 5:08 am

A good post, Elizabeth, and a good start to further discussion.

The short answer I have for using the library over online: it's local. Google can map your town, tell you the businesses within it, show you pictures, but I as the local librarian can tell you about the people within. There are unique non-digitized holdings that I have access to that would otherwise not be found. I have the local knowledge, the lay of the land, and can put you in contact with other people. You won't find that online.

I like your approach to marketing the library, but it misses in one way: websites, Facebook, and Twitter (and so forth) won't work unless your community is there. Press releases and stories in the local paper, local radio, flyers, pamphlets, and word of mouth are also good viable means to reach people. You have to meet the patrons where they are at in media. It's not that those things that you listed are bad in any way, but there are some very nice low tech options as well.

Building a relationship requires communicating with your community. How that communication happens is another story, but one as a librarian that you have to find out.



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