According to the head of the British Library, Roly Keating in a speech at the Hay Festival, libraries will outlast the internet and is often shocked when people question the value of libraries in the modern age. Libraries, he says, represent core values of private study in a social space, they provide a safe environment, a place of sanctuary, they are trusted, and libraries play a vital role in poor communities. These values pre-date the internet and if they get it right in future, they will outlast it.
Brave words but the stats may be against him, as active library borrowers declined from 14.8m to 9.8m between 2003 and 2014 and in the same period, the number of libraries declined from 4,622 to 4,145 (CIPFA Study). Some may point to the web as the source of this decline but I think more likely its the plethora of entertainment alternatives open to the modern book lover, from 7-day shopping to 24-hour television.
While the internet must have an impact on the search facilities a library offers, compare the experience of an internet trawl versus a frustrating afternoon in a reference library, their biggest threat is surely from ebooks, not only ease of availability, but low price. Readers well used to reading electronic books may not return to paperbacks, especially as some library stock is often grubby and damaged, and with 200 books on a Kindle and 50 unread, where is the incentive to borrow more?
What do you think?
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