As the world pushes technology forward at an alarming rate, and with information being digitized at nearly the same speed, one would expect that libraries would feel the repercussions as information becomes much more widely available to the masses via the Internet. Surprisingly, this is not the case at all; technology is, in fact, a welcome change for those who work at the library.
It is true to some extent that libraries are changing with the world. Jane Easterly, Assistant Director and Head of Reference and Adult Services at the Galesburg Public Library, says that libraries “adapt quickly as the world changes.” Jeff Douglas, Director of Henry Seymour Library, agreed, saying that there have only been positive consequences.
Before there were computers, researching to find a book was far more tedious. Forget about a keyword search; people had look through massive indexes of books and periodicals, searching by author or title alone. By using an online catalog, everything in the library becomes more accessible.
Not only that, but resources outside the library become far easier to use. Along with a faster interlibrary loan system, Douglas said the availability of online resources “levels the [information] playing field” between Knox and large universities. For example, Knox once had about 800 periodicals available for patron access, but with the addition of online resources the number has jumped to between 15 and 20 thousand. Easterly described how popular e-books have become since the public library added a downloading service in 2010.
When asked if there was any fear of the library becoming obsolete, both librarians responded with a quick no. Douglas described how, despite a push in the past for digitizing books published (a venture shelved due to legal issues), the library as an institution is safe and sound. With over 100,000 books not online, the Seymour Library is still a vital resource for Knox students. Easterly added that the public library has seen continuous growth in numbers over the past few years.
Librarians aren’t going out of style either; Easterly points out that librarians still provide services to the public. Douglas agreed, saying, “The Internet is a very unorganized place … what librarians can do is provide an organized manner to categorize and utilize information.” Libraries allow for a more focused, quality search, and librarians can often offer assistance in finding more reputable sources.
Libraries also offer services not available online. The Galesburg Public Library is often used as a student tutoring location, as is Seymour Library. Not only that, but last year nearly a tenth of the residents of Galesburg used the public Internet access at the Galesburg Library, not including those who used the wireless Internet access.
As the world changes, libraries will adapt, so the future of books depends on what publishers decide to do. Still, Easterly may have described the usefulness of library technology most eloquently: “If it’s good for society over all, it’s good for libraries.”