Why Libraries (And Librarians) Are Not Obsolete

Filed as News on February 7, 2007 11:05 pm

The Internet age has brought about many changes in the way people look for and access information. While information was previously limited to those who had physical access to publications (books, journals, serials, magazines), now you can access almost anything at the comfort of your own home. This doesn’t only include written material; with Broadband you can access rich media at amazing speeds.

This brings us to the question whether libraries–and consequently, librarians–are still important in this day and age. It might be tempting to relegate libraries and librarians as old school and passé along with the steam-powered locomotive and the manual typewriter. After all, you have a whole world of Knowledge waiting to be accessed online. And with social media, it gets even better, since Knowledge starts to become a collective from numerous sources and not only from a few sources.

However, this information structure has its flaws, as some would believe, and therefore libraries and librarians are still important as gatekeepers of information. In fact, here are 33 reasons why libraries and librarians should not be considered obsolete, according to Will Sherman.


Society is not ready to abandon the library, and it probably won’t ever be. Libraries can adapt to social and technological changes, but they can’t be replaced. While libraries are distinct from the internet, librarians are the most suited professionals to guide scholars and citizens toward a better understanding of how to find valuable information online. Indeed, a lot of information is online. But a lot is still on paper. Instead of regarding libraries as obsolete, state and federal governments should increase funding for improved staffing and technology. Rather than lope blindly through the digital age, guided only by the corporate interests of web economics, society should foster a culture of guides and guideposts. Today, more than ever, libraries and librarians are extremely important for the preservation and improvement of our culture.

It’s an interesting, albeit lengthy, read. 33 reasons! We can’t even begin to scratch the surface without resorting to a very long blog post here at the Blog Herald. So let me just highlight and summarize a few points.

Not everything is available online. Okay, so almost everything is available online–from bomb recipes to patents to photos of wardrobe malfunctions. But not all. A good majority of publications are still only in hard format. That’s why Google came up with Book Search–to index material that’s only found on paper. Even Google Book Search isn’t perfect.

Physical libraries are part of culture. Just like museums, which preserve our human heritage. We can’t just expect to eliminate physical libraries and replace them with virtual ones.

Quality control is difficult with social media. The article gives several striking examples, which involve collaboration online. For instance:

Like Wikipedia, the most popular online meeting grounds are often the best moderated. Since riff-raff and spammers are an inevitable part of any society (whether physical or virtual), quality control helps contribute to the best online experiences. Good citizenship among online communities (intelligently contributing to the discussion, not spamming) is a surefire way to bolster your reputation as a helpful member of the group. In order to be fostered, this type of environment must be moderated.

Then again, the problem with social media is that the “wisdom” of the crowds can be unreliable.

Wisdom of crowds is untrustworthy, because of the tipping point … In a vacuum, crowds probably are very wise. But all too often we see the caveat to James Surowiecki’s crowd wisdom in Malcom Gladwell’s “tipping point”, which, in this context, explains that groups are easily influenced by their vanguard – those who are the first to do something and who automatically have extra influence, even if what they are doing is not necessarily the best idea.

The Internet is a mess! There is a vast amount of content available online, but you can only do so much to search through these to find what you’re looking for. The Internet is also subject to manipulation. I’m still of the opinion that there are still those elite who can hold influence over what’s considered true or important online, even with collaborative endeavors.

Librarians are not just about books. They serve as guides–gateways if you must–to finding the right sources of information. Librarians are, after all, trained in managing vast resources of information. Perhaps they also make for excellent moderators and guides to finding the right stuff online.

Librarians, therefore, must be the ones who cross over into the internet to make information more easily accessible. Instead of eliminating the need for librarians, technology is reinforcing their validity.

Lastly, I think the sensual aspects of physical books should be highlighted. Reading a novel online is definitely different from reading it on paper. Reading a book is a sensual experience in itself–smelling the paper, feeling the texture and weight, hearing pages leaf by, and actually seeing the lines of ink (some even taste their books. Wow!).

So I would agree that pitting the Internet against libraries is just plain silly. The ‘net and libraries should be complements. Both are resources–mediums for finding information.

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