Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The future of libraries

The library world is littered with the false prophecies of those who have tried to predict the future of libraries, but I thought I'd take a stab at it anyway.

Google has apparently just reached a settlement in a lawsuit that, in my opinion, could change the future of small college libraries. From a Google news release:
"We'll also be offering libraries, universities and other organizations the ability to purchase institutional subscriptions, which will give users access to the complete text of millions of titles while compensating authors and publishers for the service. tudents and researchers will have access to an electronic library that combines the collections from many of the top universities across the country. Public and university libraries in the U.S. will also be able to offer terminals where readers can access the full text of millions of out-of-print books for free" (Google books; emphasis mine).
Librarians already purchase subscriptions to millions of full-text journal articles via companies like EBSCO. We will jump at institutional subscriptions to copyrighted-but-out-of print books through Google.

Just imagine if were to follow Google's lead and make its current "in-print" books available via subscription (like EBSCO does with journals). And imagine if made everything (Google books, Amazon Books, EBSCO journals) available on its hand-held book reader, the Kindle.

All incoming students could be given a Kindle and small college libraries as we know them would be obsolete overnight.

After all, why would a small college spend $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000 a year on books when an annual subscription could provide more books immediately--including current books--than the library would have money to purchase in 500 years!

Students would have more book and journal information in their purse or backpack than contained in an entire university library today.

The library might then be transformed into a computer center and coffee shop where students could find a comfortable place to read their Kindle and get help navigating and evaluating the overwhelming flood of information.

For small college libraries this would mean no more selecting, purchasing, receiving, cataloging, processing, shelving, checking out and re-shelving books.

The only things for which a librarian might be needed would be to help with reference questions, teach "library" research sessions, manage the various subscriptions.......and sell coffee. Why would a small college pay salaries to so many student library workers, library staff and professional librarians when a librarian and a few student assistants might do?

People who predict the future of libraries are almost always wrong but I will be surprised if we don't see the beginnings of this information revolution in less than five years.

I think it is a good thing for colleges, professors and students. Probably not a good time to be entering the library profession though :-)

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