In an interesting post about public libraries and the future of reading, Lorne Daniel raises the following:
In my life and the lives of others, libraries are about much more than inexpensive borrowing. Yet the question remains: would we citizens of the 21st century invent public libraries if they didn’t already exist? Will we even make the effort to keep our current libraries ticking?
The same techno wave that is challenging printed newspapers, magazines and books is poised over libraries. Google, e-books and online downloading are growing exponentially. Many libraries are trying to keep up, and online visits are beginning to rival in-person visits. But what is the future for digital access? It is not likely to consist of thousands of small-town libraries each trying to create unique portals to the same knowledge base.
“Libraries are only taking up valuable real estate after all,” writes Michael Elcock in a recent edition of BC Bookworld. “Who will need downtown libraries when the world’s intellectual works are available in everyone’s home? Eventually we may need only one library… and that may be Google.” As Elcock points out, “Google may be many things, but philanthropic is not one of them.”
As a writer and book lover, I have often wondered about these kinds of issues. I'm an editor of an online literary journal, I blog, and I read a lot of material online, from Buddhist blogs to political commentary. At the same time, I enjoy a trip to the library for many reasons. The coming together of the community being high on the list. It's very concerning how little public space is available in many places these days. How many people must go to the mall to do some walking in the winter, or to gather a group of friends for a night of fun? I don't know about you, but malls to me are some of the deadest, most controlled environments outside of jails and prisons. Every detail is designed to sell and nothing else, and yet, how often do you find public squares, open public buildings, or other public spaces in the suburbs (and even in some cities)? Hell, even sidewalks and parks have been eliminated in some places, victims of the drive to "develop" every last acre of land in the name of the unwritten God of North Americans: the Dollar.
Ben Franklin, and the others who started the first lending libraries in the United States, would probably be wondering what our goals are these days. In fact, they might make a link between lack of public space and the terrible state of pubic discourse and civic action.
*Above is a photo of my community library, complete with public transit vehicle (i.e. Bus). We were fortunate that they completed work on the building a few years before the economy tanked.)