June 13, 2010

On libraries at school

June 13, 2010 - Categories: library

Some of my fondest memories at school are of libraries, of devouring whatever caught my eye from the stacks. It was a quiet haven from the rush of the outside.

Are libraries still relevant in the age of Google and Wikipedia?

For me, yes. I borrow dozens of books from the Toronto Public Library each week, browsing their online catalogue for books to request for delivery. There are few better ways to spend an afternoon than curled up with a stack of books.

It’s an amazing thing, to be able to borrow more books than you can buy, to take home more books than you can carry. I haven’t really taken advantage of reference librarians’ services, but that’s because I enjoy diving into books.

Libraries are the first taste many people have of freely learning from neatly structured knowledge, more interest-driven than textbooks, more comprehensive and more reliable than the chaos of the Web. In places without public libraries or where not everyone has broadband, school libraries are even more important.

It takes work and space and money to make a library. I have the greatest respect for librarians, who have to decide which books will be the best use of a limited budget, how to arrange the space in order to invite people in and encourage them to read, and all sorts of other things I take for granted when I read a book.

Librarians are awesome in other ways, too. They care a lot about privacy and freedom. They’ve thought about how to organize digital information and keep things accessible. Many of the Web 2.0 tools I’m excited about benefited from the thoughts and insights of librarians.

What would I like to see in libraries of the future? Social recommendations, like the way Amazon does it. I use libraries heavily, and I’d love to see recommendations of books based on things I’ve checked out in the past. Even someone who’s just starting out might get lured in by all the great books out there.

Other people have thought a lot about how libraries can stay relevant and show the value they provide. Me, I’m just a fan. =)

Thanks to dmcordell for the nudge to think about this!