Libraries in the 21st Century

Before the millennium, Howard Besser of the Berkley School of Information Management and Systems predicted the evolution of the library in the 21st century. Besser compared the changing library to the changing look of our old mom and pop stores to Wal-Marts, local pharmacies to drug stores, and the disappearance of local bookstores to Barnes & Noble and Walden books. Besser also announced that libraries in the 21st century will move toward certain trends: the movement to pay-per-use of resources, the best-seller phenomenon, privacy issues and cultural diversity issues. Did these predictions come true and are the issues Besser discussed still relevant?

Pay-per-use is indeed a problem for our now technologically advanced libraries. Now that all we have to do is click a mouse instead of drive to the local library to find a book, we are more inept to go on line and view books already deemed popular. All we see are the New York Times Bestsellers and are tempted to read those books instead of searching for smaller, yet just as interesting and well written, material.This leads to what Besser called the best-seller phenomenon, which is when large-scale economies make mass-distributed books more cheaply available, and therefore smaller-audience information is harder to find, not to mention more expensive to obtain. So what about privacy? Yes, now that we go on line to buy information, our buying habits are traced and we are targeted by mass-distributors or marketers. We no longer have the privacy of our local libraries to depend on; we used to be able to consciously choose what materials we wanted to read or research. And by the way, how many of you have noticed that libraries are no longer quiet? Reading and research time can easily be interrupted by a group of kids sitting on the sofa chatting away or by the ring of a cell phone.

But, there are some positives that come along with this change in our libraries. We do have more access to more information and are not limited to just the resources that specific library has. We can go to the libraries database and search for items not available and can find where to look for them. We can also print certain informative pieces, such as journal articles, that the library doesn’t carry, from those databases the library subscribes to. We also still have our libraries for study time, even though we have to search out those quiet spots (go around 7-8 p.m. if you go to the library on a college campus).

Basically, libraries in the 21st century have changed just like every other institution that changed with the turn of the century. There is more technology, more resources, more speedy access to information. However, there are still problems, just like with everything else. Like a trip to a supermarket, it’s hard to find some personal space and we are bombarded with marketing tactics to get us up to date on the most popular info. But, libraries are still as vital today as they were decades ago.