09 January 2013

Do We Still Need Libraries?

Source: http://www.beautiful-libraries.com/library%20photos/home%20libraries%20grand/3004.jpg


A provocative and yet important question!

The New York Times recently “held” a debate in its “Room for Debate” Opinion Pages on just this topic.  There were four debaters who presented their perspectives and then 192 comments were posted and possibly more when accounting for Facebook and Twitter activity.

The introduction states:

The New York Times reports that, as big stores like Borders disappear, “many public libraries are seeing an opportunity to fill the void created by the loss of traditional bookstores.”

Is that the right direction for libraries to take? What are libraries for, and how should they evolve?

Given how much research your average genealogist has done historically in libraries, this is a topic very important to us.

Just recently, a branch library in Wake County (NC) was remodeled and some of the most notable changes were more open space, more computers and less books!

I will admit to “physically” using the county libraries less than I used to when the kids were little and we were frequently there to get books and attend programs.  Though, I use the State Library of NC and other more narrowly-focused libraries much much more as I do research.

And, I do use “elements” of the Wake County library without having to leave my house – I can do interlibrary loan requests online, access select databases (e.g. HeritageQuest Online, Sanborn Maps, etc), see what’s happening and more.

My mom was a big user of the library in the town where I grew up, even though I did find the back bookcases kind of musty and dim.  Many a high school research project was completed using its resources and I was able to borrow books which expanded my reading beyond some classics, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and an encyclopedia set, which was all we had in our house.

My kids have a slightly different perspective.  Though we did go to the library to borrow books, they also were gifted or purchased with their spending money many books.  Additionally, by the time they were in third grade, reports were being done on computers at the school and the research was being done at the school library.  The shift to college created a world where much research is done online and on-campus libraries are more for study group gatherings.  On occasion, I do have my daughter look at a real book and copy pages from it for me!

As a part of the research I do now, there is a not a month that goes by where I don’t contact a library for some reason. Some recent questions by me have been:
  • Can they search for an obituary for me? 
  • Do they have a vertical file for a particular family name?  
  • Would they look up something in a book that worldcat tells me they have a copy of?  
  • Have any local surveys of cemeteries been conducted?
  • It appears that this funeral home has closed, do they know if another bought them out or where are their records?

Since I still find libraries invaluable, even if they have morphed through time, my answer has to be -- YES, we still need libraries.

Do you still find libraries invaluable to your research? Do you think we still need libraries? If yes, what makes them important now and in the future?





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