The Olive Tree
The Future of The Academic Library
A library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, should be the delivery room for the birth of ideas--a place where history comes to life. This inspirational quote can be found among several others on a panel on the second floor of Fogler Library. Although the other quotes are certainly relevant to libraries in general, this one is particularly pertinent to the academic library because it truly is a place where history comes to life. The key word, in this case, is "life." A library should be a living place, rather than a stagnant resister of change. Information should flow into it, grow in it, and flow out to users. Yet, as a physical entity, a library is rather rigid in today's world of fluid virtual reality and interactive hypertext. Until very recently, all users went to the library--it would not come to them. But now, thanks to high-speed Internet and multi-linked web pages, libraries have arrived in the homes and offices of users. So, why do libraries as buildings still exist, and why do people continue to patronize these temples of antiquity?
For one thing, libraries are not just about books. They are containers of valuable information, whether in the form of manuscripts, computer laboratories, or staff. Libraries not only contain information resources, but they also filter and organize them into concise categories. Librarians and staff are a very important part of a library entity. These people are well versed in the principles of information organization, much more so than the vast majority of students and faculty. They are the disseminators of information, and without them the academic library as we know it would not be. Besides being responsible for a library in general, librarians also give seminars and educate students on the availability of resources and how best to attain them. So, what would a library be like, if it were no longer a physical container? What if all materials were transferred to electronic and digital mediums?
The value of books would certainly degenerate if they could simply be produced and reproduced in cyberspace at an extremely minimal cost. As John V. Lombardi points out, "Fortunately, it is expensive to digitize the world." This is a fortunate thing because we humans need organization, and we demand logic. Compared with an academic library, the Internet is highly illogical. How do we know what texts are reliable and what are not in the .com world? Dependable data and information is of utmost importance in an academic environment. That's where the significance of libraries in a digital world enters the picture. As physical entities, libraries contain real people, and, instead of computerized responses or virtual people, students and other users can talk with a reference person on a one-on-one basis. In spite of the huge amount of information the Internet provides, it is unable to offer all the answers.
A brief survey was orally administered to ten random students here in Fogler Library. The question was, "What do you think when you hear the word "library?" If a student paused or appeared confused, he or she was prompted with, "Well, do you consider a library boring, a place of obligation, a place to meet friends, or a place for research?" Here is what the ten students replied when asked to describe the word "library:"
According to this survey, eight of the students defined "library" as a place to study or be quiet. Only two thought of it as a place for activities besides studying. At any given time, students can be found studying in the Library, or finding a book in the stacks. However, the academic library is certainly no longer exclusively a place of quiet and study as evidenced by the two students in the survey who thought otherwise. In some areas of the Library, such as the Oakes Room or study sections on the first floor, a steady flow of conversation is easily audible. The Library is certainly not a quiet place. As the academic library becomes more of a center for activities, such as seminars and large study groups, its traditional definition is altered. Yet Socrates' statement remains unchanged. Symbolically and realistically, the academic library continues to remain a living and vital container for human inspiration and learning.
Home | Olive Tree | Winter 2003