Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Future of Libraries and the Libraries of the Future


The public library system in the United States is one of the greatest institutions in the history of humanity.  This public service, which was established to ensure the preservation and access of information for the public, has no comparison.  As society continues to develop into the information age, the services and information that the public library provides will continue to increase in importance and value. 

"Liquidating the library branches ... would be like selling the gold mine to buy picks and shovels."


Through the centuries, books have been invaluable for the storage and dissemination of information.  As we work more exclusively on digital platforms, books are becoming obsolete.  Libraries, however, are not becoming obsolete. 

Library is derived from liber, which means book.  However, to consider literature as books is like considering theater as only a stage.  The stage is simply the platform upon which dramatics are performed.  Ultimately, libraries do not preserve books.  They preserve information.

At the current rate that we are propagating information, and our increased reliance upon this information, we must have places where this information may be preserved and accessed.  Digital information is extremely volatile and easily lost, and as our reliance upon digital information increases, our reliance upon the library system to preserve and archive this information will become more important. 

New York City is perfectly positioned to lead in the transformation of the library system.  In fact, the New York Public Library could become the principal source of research information for the entire human population. Unfortunately, some municipal decisions concerning the public libraries seem to be moving more toward disassembling the system, rather than ensuring that it has the support needed to continue evolving to meet the public’s needs. 

"The New York Public Library could become the principal source of research information for the entire human population"


With the construction of the new Roosevelt Island Tech Center the library will be an invaluable resource for ever elaborating information technologies.  Liquidating the library branches and renovating the Schwartzman Building so that it becomes more of a museum of the library sciences rather than a functioning research facility is like selling the gold mine to buy picks and shovels. 

Instead of liquidating historic library buildings and converting the Schwartzman Building into a museum, the city should take close consideration of how the library system may evolve to continue serving the population as we develop into the information age.

Although there are countless ways through which people interact and communicate, the literary language remains an invaluable means of exchanging information and is second in complexity and consequence only to the genetic code.  The library system must continue to evolve to ensure that the integrity of literary information and communication is preserved.

In addition to living in the information age, we also live in the misinformation age.  Our access to information must be from unbiased sources that provide every available means of verifying the legitimacy of the information.  This access must also be independent from the economic market.  The public library must continue to provide this service. 

With the availability of the information in the library system, universities and the Roosevelt Island Tech Center can begin developing systems for restructuring and organizing the information to improve access through ingenious new means of data architecture and indexing.  This would increase the public’s ability to apply information effectively to the unforeseeable developments of the future. 

"The best-informed public is the most stable, productive and innovative public."


Instead of closing historic library facilities, the city should modify them into education centers that instruct the public in the effective use of new information technology.  This would enable the public to employ these tools for the greatest benefit for themselves and society.  The best-informed public is the most stable, productive and innovative public. 

As the information we generate increases exponentially, we must rely upon the library system for the preservation and archival of this information.  Although it is easy to dismiss the electronic chatter that is incessantly buzzing through our lives, this buzzing is the development of new means of interaction that we are only beginning to understand.  Never before has the entire population of humanity had instant access to one another, and this means of communication is integrating our collective intelligence in ways that are unprecedented.  These developments have profound ramifications for humanity and life on Earth.  We must preserve this information that is recording a nascent era of our species so that it would be available for study. 

Also, the archives of the New York Public Library are already the most accessible of any literary archives in the world.  The new technology that is developing could make these archives even more accessible.  As we record these archives on digital formats, anyone in the world could directly access them.  This would allow the entire human population to converge upon the New York Public Library as a primary resource and point of referral for information on the human species and the universe. 

Not only would this convergence allow the New York Public Library to gain and engage the attention of the  world’s population, it could establish the library system as an invaluable source of information from which people may continue to develop their understanding of one other and us all.  Then, as we continue to develop our understanding of one another, we may decrease the number of conflicts from disagreement. 

Although printed books are becoming a novelty, literary language and the information preserved and transferred through it is not.  We cannot abandon our library system, instead we must ensure that it will evolve to serve our increasing need for information. 

Garrett Buhl Robinson is a poet and novelist.  He lives in Brooklyn.


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