Thursday, February 4, 2010

Will Manley thinks libraries will die

Will Manley recently addressed the topic of whether libraries will die in his Booklist column. He quotes the dean of Syracuse University who proclaimed the death of the library "as a place." Then of course Manley makes obligatory mention of Cushing Academy and its library without books.

Initially, he's taken aback by the idea that libraries could die, but reconsiders upon noticing how people around him on the train overwhelmingly prefer their electronic devices to print materials. He is further persuaded by the success of online programs for graduate students in library science. He expects more programs to go completely online and that as a result "the new generation of librarians will fully understand the conveniences and economies of providing informational and educational resources solely online."

And so he concludes: "The Cushing Academy headmaster is right. Young people prefer electronic formats. The Syracuse University librarian is also right. The library will no longer be a place."

Good thing for him he's retired. He doesn't have to worry about how his career will evolve or even reach extinction! For now, I still believe not only that people will continue to enlist the help of librarians for reliable sources of information in the foreseeable future but also that the library as a place--at least the public library--will not lose its relevance. Although reference librarianship could move primarily to virtual territory and many of the materials loaned out could be downloadable, I believe people will still depend on the library as a place to use computers, get in-person instruction, attend events, and be part of a real-world community.