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Libraries in the age of digitized world

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'There has been a major rethink in how exactly the library should be serving the public. Technology has changed the way we consume media.

Vijay GarG

Libraries have always been at the heart of the communities they serve. These are accessible and safe spaces, providing access to huge resources of information and knowledge. There are an estimated 315,000 public libraries in the world, 73 per cent of them in developing and transitioning countries. The public library transcends national and cultural boundaries- no matter where you are in the world, they are an essential part of creating and maintaining an educated and literate population.

But today, public libraries are at crossroads. The way we access and consume information has changed dramatically in the 21st century, and this presents major challenges and opportunities for public library systems across the world.

The advent of new technologies has changed some of our reading habits. But our need for shared, community-centric spaces to find information and connect with others is unlikely to change any time soon. To survive in the digital age and stay relevant, public libraries need to be brave and innovative. They must embrace both the physical and virtual.

Libraries must offer more than just books

Regular visitors to libraries expect, and correctly so, to receive the services libraries have provided for many years. And rightly so – the ‘traditional’ library of books, journals and quiet reading spaces shouldn’t just disappear. But libraries also need to respond quickly to real changes that have taken place in this digital era and come up with new and refreshed outlook to cater to all sort of customers.

With heightened pressure on public expenditure and lowering visitor numbers, the traditional library system has come under more scrutiny. Why maintain expensive-to-run ‘physical’ libraries when growing numbers of people can already access the information they need from any location? As a result, in recent years public libraries have been threatened with closure across all parts of the country.

But there has also been a major rethink in the UK as to how exactly the library should be serving the public, and what the library of the future could and should look like. Last year, the Arts Council England published a wide-ranging and detailed piece of research, envisioning the library of the future, aiming to answer these very questions as well as emphasizing the need for the physical and the digital to sit side by side. It finds that the 21st century public library service will be one in which “local people are more active and involved in its design and delivery.” A sense of community, always a defining feature of libraries, has renewed importance.

  • The writer is Ex.PES-1, Retired Principal, Government Girls Senior Secondary school MHR Malout, Punjab.

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