Will the internet make libraries obsolete?
There can be no doubt that the rise of the internet since the 1990s has had enormous social consequences, impacting such a wide range of social sectors and economic activity, that it would require a book to fully describe. In essence, any industry which dealt in one way or another with ‘information’ was greatly affected: travel agents, music industry and newspapers are perhaps some of the most apparent and publicly well known.
Given that libraries are, in essence, ‘information dealers’ they hence cannot escape being affected by the internet. These notes hope to present a brief suggestion as to what the long term impacts might be.
Students of today do not fathom what the world was like prior to the internet, and they also are not fully aware of the important role libraries played in this environment. If you wanted to find out the news ore vents which happened only a month ago, one would head down to the library’s newspaper collection rather than the newspapers’s website. The first queries on a topic might begin with an encyclopedia, or a simple subject search.
The library in short was the cumulation of important social information; as we all know, a repository of both facts and theories which a person could turn to when inquiring about a given topic. Instead of telling a student to “google it”, the student would be directed to their local library in order to begin any sort of query.
Given that so many things can be searched online, does this mean that libraries will eventually become obsolete?
The short answer is “NO”. However, there can be no doubt that there will occur a substantial change in the nature of services which they provide.
My best guess is that, as information becomes ‘digital’, libraries by definition of being repositories of knowledge, will have to allocate many more resources to digital archival in order to preserve the information and/or knowledge created within their respective geographical regions. These will eventually have to become smaller localized ‘Internet Archives’ or HathiTrust collections.
It is equally important to note that legislation pertaining to repository libraries will also have to be consequently modified so as to provide digital copies of existing government archives to the respective central libraries. This is a very important point that cannot be obviated. Institutions are, to some degree, as ‘mortal’ as the human beings which compose them, often having distinct beginnings and endings. So as to not lose the information of historical value produced in its centers, these will ultimately have to be transferred to digital libraries.
It might be counter argued that local governments do not have to allocate so many resources to these endeavors given that other nonprofit agencies already do so. This is incorrect, as the state cannot obviate its moral responsibility over the citizens which it pretends to defend and protect, this particular case constituting an example of ‘cultural protection’. Digital information, as we all know, is very frail, and can all too easily be lost. (This is a very odd property, as it also reflects the opposite end of the scale: the ease with which it is diffused means that it obtains an overwhelming amount of attention, relative to prior information storage holders.).
Libraries, however, should not be overly concerned that such a change will place an undue financial burden on them. Given the drastically declining price of storage media, even small collections can easily afford localized NAS servers to play their indispensable function in preserving a nations’s historical and cultural heritage. For less than $5,000, a small collection could afford diverse and robust systems that will last them for many years.
Even more so, as the price of solid state drives (SSD) continue to rapidly decline, now at round 30 cents per gigabyte, these will imply even longer lasting systems which consume a fraction of electricity than that using more traditional 3.5” hard drives.
These changes, in turn, will usher a new era of library research for all scholars….