It turns out that other people think libraries matter as well, after all the debate this week around Amazon replacing public libraries (although the original Forbes article seems to have mysteriously disappeared and a 404 error pops up in it’s place). This piece, highlighted by Discover, talks about why replacing public libraries is absurd and this piece, in The Guardian has librarians suggesting it’s ‘twaddle’ (what a delicious word) that “libraries don’t have the same value they used to”.
Here are my thoughts on what libraries bring, and things that an Amazon Bookstore would struggle to deliver:
It goes without saying that Libraries are essential for the preservation and ongoing care of rare & unique items of history. They are equipped to conserve items that might be one of a kind, or need serious restoration work. The Bodleian Libraries have Jane Austen’s ‘Volume the first’ in their collection and you can see how they conserved the original and repaired the breakdown of two hundred years here.
The British Library has the famous Sir John Ritblat Treasures Room. There are items in here that are one of a kind, and require extreme care to maintain for future generations. Items include one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta (dated twelfth century); the score from Handel’s ‘Messiah’; a notebook from Leonardo Da Vinci; a bible belonging to Elizabeth I… and many more. These items are simply stunning, and if you’re anything like me, it’ll blow you away that these items were really theirs, that these historical figures held, wrote, touched, read these items. It’s gob-smacking, and it is truly miraculous that places like the British Library exist in order to take of these remarkable items.
Libraries are indispensable to academics. They wouldn’t be able to do half of their work without the collections and the incredible people who manage them and curate those collections. I remember when I was doing doing my undergraduate and masters degrees, and I literally would not have gotten anywhere without the university library. I overheard some fellow students say they had never set foot in there, and my immediate reaction was ‘how’??
Digitization & Access
We live in a digital world. Information is available to us in our pockets and at the touch of our fingers. Libraries have had to find a place in this new and exciting place where people don’t necessarily need a book to get information. Yet this has provided new opportunities to libraries to increase access and to digitize collections that previously have not been available to the public due to their delicate or damaged condition.
It means that curators and librarians have been able to provide extra information and engagement to items that previously had been off limits except to scholars of that area. Latin texts, for example, can now be translated in front of a child’s eyes, so he can find out exactly what Roman soldiers were eating for breakfast, or what Greek school children were reading about the Gods.
What do you think? Do you still use libraries? When was the last time you visited a library? Let me know in the comments!