ZDNet journalist Jason Perlow warns of the slow demise of the public library. The growth of digital media means that it is now the preferred way of distributing books, magazines, films, music and newspapers. So, the fears seem to grow truer as the digital revolution reveals what could be the onset of a digital underclass, those who do not have the capital or the skills to acquire digital media for themselves.
In a fully digitised society, public libraries will no longer be required. There are clearly many advantages to digital media including instant purchase and delivery of content, portability, elimination of book shortages. But until Perlow’s article, little attention has been given to the disadvantages.
Public libraries are closing down, as information now moves to the cloud. The United States are quickly losing their libraries and the UK, even faster. This year, 400 libraries were closed down nationwide. Oxfordshire are losing up to 20 out of 43, Brent six out of 12, Buckinghamshire up to 14, Dorset up to 20 out of 34, Gloucestershire up to 18, North Yorks 24 out of 42, Somerset 11 out of 34 and Wiltshire up to 10.
Perlow predicts that in as few as 10 years, virtually almost all forms of popular consumable written media will be distributed exclusively in an electronic format. Hence, the significant reduction in library users. But still the digital underclass suffers the most.
Acquiring e-books and digital media cost, particularly for accessing them on devices such as mobiles, laptops, Kindles, iPads or blackberries. But, in the library, anybody could pick up a book, magazine or journal. It cost them nothing. Library users can sit in the library all day if they wish. But with e-books through Amazon, Sony or Apple – media cannot be gifted or shared and they are typically tied to the platform that they run on.
But a digital underclass doesn’t have to result and the library as an institution doesn’t need to die. What must result is the evolution of the library in light of digital developments, with the support of vital stakeholders. They need to become digital portals to the cloud for those who lack capital, computing access and broadband. Libraries must become shepherds to digital data for those who lack the resources to navigate information in the Internet Age.