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Friday, September 14, 2007

Books, Bits, or Both?

What's a Librarian to Do?

The Internet is a cultural tsunami. It even affects the quiet corners and stacks of your local public library. In the AP story, Libraries Face Internet Traffic Jam, Anick Jesdanun highlights that many libraries are struggling to balance their historical role of providing books and encouraging reading with their emerging role as Internet Cafe.

Not just a question of books vs. bits, librarians have to wrestle with how much Internet access capacity they should budget for, and what kind of "Internet experience" is within their charter. Because the Internet is much more than just an online bookshelf, we have to ask hard questions about why a library should provide Internet access, and for what purposes.

Priorities, priorities.

The question would be so easy to answer if the only thing folks did online was read and do research. But should we spend scarce public funds to make more room for Second Life, MySpace, and online chat users? Should we instead refocus those dollars on good, old-fashioned books and periodicals? Should we try to restrict the kinds of Internet activities that are allowed in a library, not for moral reasons necessarily, but for budgetary reasons?

What the heck is a library for, anyhow?

Tough questions. What do you think?

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