Recently, in my class I gave an essay test with a prompt asking them to pose an argument on the role of public libraries for the Internet age, as advancements in technology continue. My avid readers voiced that public libraries will always have a role, as a they are good places to find quiet and a printed book, with some mentioning the technology and e-book services offered at some libraries. For my students who are not avid readers, but casual or only if you force them to read kind of readers, painted a similar picture of a place for quiet and tons of books, they voiced that they are no longer needed as you can get everything through your computer/phone for information and entertainment. After all, who reads a printed book these days?
As I graded them I found myself struck with devistation, all types of readers in my class painted a similar picture for libraries. An instution that houses information in print form, where people can find quiet. They even depicted their school library the same way, when we very recently just opened it, and it is a far cry from the library of my high school day. Outlets, views, some stacks are out in the general circulation, mostly fiction, with some non-fiction, however there is more space for collaboration, meeting up, hanging out with friends, plug into cyberspace, using smart tech to advance your learning and/or entertainment experience, and the non-fiction collection are housed in the back in reference stacks, accessible only to the librarian and clerical staff, which makes more space for students to congregate, or find a space for quiet reflection. Its a mixture of the traditional library and the Techy age. So, I asked myself, why do students...scratch that. Why does the general population see the library as a place to keep quiet and find old books?
The answer my friend is complexly simple, we have portrayed it this way. We have created an illusion that to have knowledge is to be among the highest of men and women, whom thrive on philosophy and wisdom. However, today is not so much about wisdom and more about experience. Technological advancements have given us another way to experience the world around us. It can disconnect or reconnect us with people and/or nature, depending on the experience we desire. Yet, even as technology advances, we still see in our media, news, and entertianment a contemplation of the by-gone era where libraries meant knowledge and with that knowledge you gained prestige. Knowledge does not necessarily mean prestige, as I have a myriad of knowledge about the Harry Potter Canon, but it doesn't mean I should have my Ph.D. in Wizard Litrature.
Although the library was meant to provide a central location of diverse and abundant information for the public and/or academics of the world, its central purpose was to create open access to information. Many areas today consist of a low income population, where ensuring food is on the table is more important than wi-fi or the newest tech, so where do they get their information? Furthermore, ever wonder where your club can meet and enjoy fellowship with each other without bombarding someone at their home, libraries often host organization meetings and events. Book signings, workshops, classes, and so much more goes on at the library.
Yes, every library has the wonderous shelves, filled with the traditional ancient texts of Shakespeare, Shelley, Rowling, Patterson, and more. You can breathe in the melodious scents of the printed page and curl up in a corner of peace and quiet. However, do not be drawn into the illusion that this is all the library has to offer. It provides safe sanctuary to many people for many different reasons. It may be the age of technology, but it is also the age of connection. Just go to you local library and ask the librarian, "How can I connect to my world?"