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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Future of the Public Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 14, 2009

How much longer will libraries exist in our society?

 

With the Internet, why do we need libraries?

 

People seem surprised that public libraries are busy places in today’s world, with a computer in every home and a computer in every business.

 

Carol Sheffer, President of the Public Library Association, addressed this issue in her quarterly address to the association, carried in “Public Libraries” journal.

 

She is Director of the Round Lake (NY) Public Library.

 

She outlines the options available; including the Internet and online book sellers, digitized books, and a host of new information services invading the marketplace.

 

Yes, information can be found and used in all of those locations, but to me it comes down to help with that information and the cost of information today.

 

Carol Sheffer calls it the librarians’ skill at “question negotiation.”

 

People come to the library every day with an information question in-hand, usually something that they “looked up” on the Internet.

 

Their response was 3 million pages of answers, which is actually no answer at all.

 

The library uses experience, skills, and knowledge to “shake down” the information, and find the specific answer desired by the user.

 

We use the Internet, too, but have a myriad of resources both online and in print to resolve the answer to the information request.

 

Not everything in the world is online and available by tapping a computer.

 

Many things that are online are disappearing behind the paid walls of passwords.

 

Not everything is correct on the Internet.

 

In 2006, I came across a web site about the Ohio River Valley, and noticed information that was simply “incorrect.”

 

The web site had a contact button, so I sent an e-mail with the correct information, and its source; yet three years later, the incorrect information still resides there for all to use.

 

The importance of the public library as a local physical place for people cannot be discounted.

 

While our society buries itself behind computer screens of all shapes and sizes, the public library is the last local “gathering spot,” replacing the local general store.

 

As I have said before, we are the last public service desk in many communities as our society disappears behind closed public buildings.

 

I remember when mass publication of paperback books was predicted to wipe out libraries, and children’s books would no longer be published.

 

My first computer predicted to make us a paperless society, yet we produce more paper products that ever before in our society.

 

Many things that we placed only online are now gone forever as the server was unplugged and no one considered archival issues.

 

Public libraries will change as information products change, and will remain as a respite in our society for all to enter for whatever reason.