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Friday, 12th November 2010

LA Times: "Libraries Reinvent Themselves As They Struggle to Remain Relevant in the Digital Age"

From an Article by David Sarno:

"It's very common for people to say, 'Why do I need a library when I've got a computer?' " said Pam Sandlian-Smith, director of the seven-branch Rangeview, Colo., Library District. "We have to reframe what the library means to the community."

In the struggle to stay relevant and ultimately to stay open libraries are reinventing themselves in ways unimaginable even a few years ago, preparing for a future in which most materials can be checked and read from a home computer, smart phone or electronic reading device.

University and public libraries are rushing to push as much material as they can onto the Web, so patrons can peruse genealogical records, historical maps or rare volumes without leaving home.

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Some traditional librarians worry that experiments aimed at making libraries more accessible could dumb them down.

"If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what poker parties fine, do it, but don't pretend it has anything to do with libraries," said Michael Gorman, a former president of the American Library Assn. "The argument that all these young people would turn up to play video games and think, 'Oh by the way, I must borrow that book by Dostoyevsky' it seems ludicrous to me."

Others argue that reinvention is a matter of survival in an age when Google Inc. has made the reference desk almost obsolete and printed books are beginning to look more like antique collectibles.

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Libraries have been building their digital collections by stocking electronic versions of century-old classics not covered by copyright and so-called back-catalog books unlikely to appeal to book pirates, including an array of "how-to" and other nonfiction titles. But when it comes to bestsellers, the digital cupboard is often bare.

"What the libraries are worried about is being sued," said Peter Jaszi, a professor of copyright law at American University's Washington College of Law.

Until recently, the threat of a lawsuit by publishers was a "hypothetical concern" for libraries, Jaszi said. Noting that libraries are among the largest purchasers of books and other media, he said, "Generally it's bad business to sue your best customers."

More: Read the Complete Article

Source: LA Times


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