With the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web and the digitization of nearly everything, we have many sources predicting the demise of libraries and even books. The fundamental question is whether digitizing paper based information resources will obviate the need for either books or libraries? Some kinds of paper resources are already relatively unused. Watch any older movie and see someone go into a phone booth, or look up a phone number in a phone book and you can appreciate the magnitude of the changes in our information based communication system. However, just this last week I drove to our local public library to look for an obituary. Of course, we had searched online for the information and my daughter found the publication date, but there was no online copy of the actual newspaper article, at least not without going to a subscription service. At the library, I found the obituary article on microfilm and ended up paying twenty cents for the copy from the film.
Is it likely that the library's part in supplying this information will disappear like phone books? Probably. As more newspapers are online, the demand for local access to the archives will decrease. But here is a contrary observation, how many of you have read an entire book from an online source? How many are willing to sit for hours in front of a computer screen for the purpose of reading an entire book? Even with various electronic devices from cell phones to hand held screens, when was the last time you read an entire book on your cell phone? Interestingly, recent statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of books published although sales are down due to the economic downturn.
Libraries are vulnerable to economic and societal pressures more than mere technological challenges. How many elementary school libraries have been closed for budget purposes? If young children have never been to a library, why would they oppose the closing of libraries as adults?
From statistics, it isn't so much an issue of paper based books vs. electronic media, it is more an issue of reading at all. Only about 50% of all Americans even read one book in 2008. About one third of the people who did read a book were over the age of 55. This statistic also likely indicates who uses libraries.
I don't have any statistics, but genealogists seem to be much more likely to visit a library than not. But I do find many of the people I talk to about their genealogy have never been to a library specifically to search out their family and of those that have been once or twice, their experience is described as frustrating and unproductive. This response probably comes from a lack of prior experience in using library facilities.
So, when was the last time you went to a library? Not just the large regional or national ones, but your own local library? Do you know what types of information are available? Do you use the library for your own research? Think about the questions and think about the answers.