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Libraries: Does The Future Look “Virtual?”

"The future of libraries" is one of those questions that throw me into the proverbial "philosopher's chair," yet it is also a very relevant question and one we will all be required to answer as a world community well before the 22nd century.

My short answer is not as good as my long one, because I can, again, wax philosophical on this issue for a very long time and from many directions because it is one that I feel quite passionately about.

However, for the sake of space, I will say that, as all things progress technologically and as we continue to use computers and other advanced technological learning systems to a greater extent, I believe that our libraries, as we know them now, will not survive.

I also believe that is only one of the many sad commentaries on our society today.

I am one of the "last of the Baby Boomers"; I was born in 1964, that "cut-off year," and growing up sitting on the cultural fence, so to speak, has given me a wide, expansive view of both sides of American social mores and concerns.

One of my favorite views from that vantage point up on the fence has always been the library: the welcoming, often-musty smell of it; the quiet, contemplative feeling of repose upon entering its doors; the sense of history, knowing that so many before me have read those same, great tomes; and the keen, tactile pleasure of simply turning the pages and holding the books in my hands.

All my life, I have always responded in a uniquely visceral way to "the library." It has kind of served as the soul of our educational process, both in an academic setting and in the never-ending school of life.

A library, something most of our world governments and free communities have always provided for us in one form of another, is something quite rare and fine: Here we have a building made solely to encase, protect, and house words -- just words -- that have been written on papyrus as long as humans have had that ability. I think there is something both modest and majestic about that; I think it says a lot about the kind of people we are as a human race -- that we care so much about learning and reading about what has gone before us that, over the ages, we have dedicated innumerable buildings of wood and stone to reserve a space for that -- our own history.

I obviously feel very passionately about this! I didn't intend to border on the maudlin, nor did I set out to compose a manifesto on the subject, but it is literally very difficult to have to bring myself to say what I believe, which is, that libraries as we know them will become obsolete.

I hope I am very wrong. I hope we will always be able to hold books and admire their covers and feel the thickness of their distinct pages and obtain a free library card and check them out for three weeks, during which time I can take them with me on vacation, read them before going to sleep each night, and obtain as much of a free education as I am able in this, the still-free world.

I really hope that our human race, in its technological furor to move forward faster and faster with each turn, will still maintain the shred of humanity -- not roboticism -- that says to us, "Wait a minute: Let's keep publishing books on paper. Let's don't close down or throw away so much of our history, our roots. Let's keep this sanctuary for the sake of our sanity."

I love computers and all the things we can do with them to obtain information; it's what really keeps us all going, I think -- that inherent interest we have in each other and in our own learning process.

But I'll always love books much, much more.

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Comments from Our Readers

  "I can say I believe books will last longer than computers. Books don't need batteries to be accessed. Books don't need to be plugged into a wall socket to be read. You can read them anywhere. No, books are not going anywhere." - Martha C., September 18 2009 - reply
  "Hi--I enjoyed reading your article, have always felt the same visceral response to libraries, so much so that since 2007 I have been enrolled in library school at the University of Rhode Island. If what you are suggesting is true, maybe I should not continue. In any case, it is very sad for me to think that my grandchildren, or great grandchildren, will never have the pleasures you described above very eloquently. One of my favorite quotes from "The Secret of Lost Things" is that "books are not lumps of paper, but minds on shelves."" - Loraine, September 18 2009 - reply

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