by Edward Le Prieur
I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion regarding the “obsolescence of libraries” as of late. I was working and pondering this idea that digital media is somehow superior to books and other written or printed media. The internet is not invulnerable; I can say with certainty that it is not going to be around forever. Not that we’ve never lost written media or great libraries in the past by the acts of Christianity. That being said it is easier now than it has ever been to access information of any kind anywhere in the world. Previous to this if an area library never had a resource we had to wait for it to be ordered, or simply went without it.
The internet is also a great deal less monitored and regulated, it’s much easier to read material or authors that would be normally “restricted” from libraries. However in the lack of regulation there is a sea of information out there that is highly suspect. Almost anyone with access to an internet connection can publish an article that will go out into the sea of information. Which is currently just above one-third of the world’s population. Most people don’t bother to regard sources and on the internet; anything read is just accepted as true!
The wisdom of the internet is simply not as nearly reputable as the library. The highly social aspect of the internet brings with it the information that is the accepted ideas being spread rampantly; while less popular opinions are bulldozed underneath a thick crust of media that is easily influenced and intertwined with public opinion so the information in nature is already biased. The moment an unpopular opinion occurs it’s gutted by the people bloated from the fashionable ill-considered media trough. The opposite is true of libraries, they are instead protected by a very thin mesh that filters out only the carefully analysed literature.
It shouldn’t surprise that the current methods of learning are well favored in our culture of immediate satisfaction. Knowledge is not taken in large amounts, but small and incrementally; websites offering lists of facts of science or history. It’s removed any concept of patience as virtue from out of the lexicon. Consuming hundreds of pages of historical text is an experience that just doesn’t happen online, it’s an experience unique to books. A comprehensive study that takes place over years and is compiled by a devoted author into a particular subject area.
The nature of books, and libraries simply cannot be matched by the internet or digital media in any aspect. People calling for the death of the library should not be so quick to dismiss them. We cannot equate the intangible nature of the internet with the reliable quality that a good tangible book gives. Inevitably there won’t be an internet forever, it’s not powered by an unequivocal resource. It’s just as fragile as the current state of the society. Although difficult to imagine all the information that is stored can be lost as easily as paper to a fire. Perhaps one day the internet will be regarded in passing as a more garish form of the ancient Library of Alexandria.