Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How do we ensure that we—and our kids—will continue to be able to "ask a librarian" in the digital world of the future?

The striking reference desk at the Sequoya branch of the Madison Public Library reminds me that—long before Google, long before the Internt and search engines in general—I used to rely on the reference desk at the library to help me track down information I couldn't find on my own.

Because of the convenience of the Internet, I now tend to rely on it most of the time, but something has been lost—in order to search for something, I have to know what I'm looking for. To find what I don't know I'm looking for, I need to go to the library, not only to browse, but to talk to librarians, who are curators of information resources. How do we ensure that we—and our kids—will continue to be able to "ask a librarian" in the digital world of the future?

You only have to look at what's happening to bookstores to worry. If printed books go the way of the e-reader and everyone acceses information digitally, won't that old analog institution, the public library, just go away?

I hope not. We need libraries because we're drowning in a world of information, and librarians are the people who know how to access information that can't be found with a simple Google search. We need these navigators of the digital seas to help us find our way, and sound the depths. That's why we need to maintain the strength of libraries in a time when books and their role are undergoing the greatest transformation in their history.

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