Friday, April 29, 2011

Changing role of libraries in digital age

Jumbo Editorial Team

The American Library Association strongly believes that free communication is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture. Since the founding of their country, the libraries have always been important to freedom. Today they find themselves in the midst of a tremendous shift in the way Americans consume literature and other content, but one thing has not changed-the library must continue to play a central role in providing open and free access to information and ideas.

Exactly what that role looks like is the subject of much debate and many differing perspectives. Some believe libraries will shift into learning and information centers while others insist they will maintain their role as a physical location for cataloging and loaning books-in addition to housing sources of information technology.

While providing books was a standalone function for libraries throughout the last few centuries, their offerings have evolved with the digital age to meet the changing needs of their patrons.

According to an article published in a reputed magazine, more than 71 percent of public libraries provide their community's only free public access to computers and the Internet. Not surprisingly then, due to the economic hardship, more people are using libraries. A study sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and published by the Institute of Museum and Library Services last year found that 69 percent of Americans 14 years of age or older visited a public library in 2009.

Regardless of its exact nature, technology will play an increasing role in shaping our future libraries. For centuries, the book publishing industry has worked closely with and supported libraries, and they have done so without influencing the freedom of the institution. It is now time for the technology industry to step up and play a similar role.

Digital reading has taken off over the past three years in ways that no one would have imagined a decade ago. Earlier this year, the Book Industry Study Group reported that eBook sales rose from 1.5% of all book sales in Q1 2009 to 5% in Q1 2010.

This is a wonderful thing in many respects-digital reading makes it easier to publish and distribute materials than ever before. But the race is also on to lock down the market on ebooks by locking consumers into a specific platform, and this is the equivalent of curbing access.

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