SSCM librarian Colin Wilson writes:
The building of private prisons is a huge growth industry in the United States. The industry needs to plan for future growth: how many cells are they going to need for the prisoners there are going to be fifteen years from now? They found that they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11 year-olds couldn’t read or had never been in a Library.
In a week that has seen Birmingham City Council place a pause on funding acquisitions for its public Libraries it is important to reaffirm a few suggestions why Libraries are irreplaceable.
- Not everything is available on the internet: The amount of information on the web has engendered the false assumption that everything can be found online. Even if Google does successfully digitize the sum of human knowledge, it is already prohibited by law to make copyrighted books fully accessible.
- The internet isn’t free (or digital Libraries are not the internet): Digital Libraries include materials that have been published via rigorous editorial processes and usually contain analysis, rather than opinion. These research papers and journals are virtually inaccessible to someone seeking to pull them off the web for free. Users might use the internet to find these databases but deeper access to them requires registration. You are still online, but you are no longer on the internet. You are in a Library.
- Libraries are adapting to cultural change: Anyone subscribing to the theories of McLuhan might think that with changed life patterns brought on by electronic technology, knowledge that was once only in books is now being liberally disseminated, rendering obsolete the austerity of Libraries. But this cultural change pre-dates use of the internet. Society has always been seeking a deeper understanding of the world, and increased access to information. The search for new methods of organizing educational structures has long been active and there is a growing movement to maximise the social and interactive nature of physical Library space. Group study, art exhibits, food and coffee, talking not whispering…
- Libraries are creating cultural change: The Library that most are familiar with today is at the forefront of the democratization of knowledge. Where else can people access information regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery that is readily, equally, and equitably accessible to all Library users? Libraries have broad social responsibilities and provide free and equal access to information for all people in the community the Library serves.
- Wisdom of Crowds is untrustworthy: The high visibility of certain viewpoints, analysis and facts found online through social networking sites is engineered to be the result of objective group consensus. Google’s algorithm hinges on this collective principle: rather than an expert deciding what resource is the most authoritative; let the web decide. In a vacuum, crowds probably are very wise. But all too often we see the caveat to Surowiecki’s crowd wisdom in Gladwell’s Tipping Point, which, in this context, explains that groups are easily influenced by their vanguard, even if what they are doing is not necessarily the best idea. The highly social nature of the internet makes it highly susceptible to sensationalized, low-quality information with the sole merit of popularity. Libraries provide quality control. Only information that is carefully vetted, but never censored, is allowed in and provides a counterpoint to the fragile populism of the web.
- Libraries improve student results: At the recent graduation, students received special prizes for their achievements. All were in the top five Library users in terms of items issued and the breadth of subjects read during the academic year.