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The Future of Libraries

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Librarians manage information.  Though the format or mode of delivery may change the basic function of a librarian remains the same.   With the sheer amounts of information, the speed of information change and the variety of delivery, we need information managers now more than ever."Though some experts predicted the internet boom would spell the library's ultimate demise, studies show America's libraries are just as popular and busy as ever - and the technology shift may be a big reason for that" (Boerema).   In This Book Is Overdue, writer Marilyn Johnson describes our love-hate relationship with information technology:  we are "bleeding information from the nose and ears, over stimulated yet gluttonous for more" (16).  Librarians are the  guides through the maze of information.  





The new library assistant, "Emerac," blows a fuse.  From the movie "Desk Set" with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

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     The 1957 movie Desk Set provides an example of the persistent fear that technology will make librarians irrelevant.  Katherine Hepburn plays Bunny Watson, the head of the reference library at a broadcasting corporation.  An efficiency expert, Richard Sumner, played by Spencer Tracy brings a computer, EMERAC,  to help ease the workload of employees during a secret merger.  The librarians become convinced that they will be replaced by EMERAC.  EMERAC (Electro-Magnetic Memory and Research Arithmetic Calculator) is a giant room-sized computer.  It is similar to other early computers of the time like ENIAC.  At the beginning of Desk Set is a message thanking IBM for their help with the movie.  In 1957 IBM was establishing its dominance in the computer world.  The possibility of computers replacing workers was becoming a reality.  IBM used the romantic comedy Desk Set and the temperamental EMERAC to ease people's fears.   In this clip, EMERAC gets overwhelmed by trying to do too many things at one time.  The computer blows a fuse while Bunny dramatically  quotes a poem, Curfew Must not Ring Tonight.  The librarians feel redeemed by EMERAC's failure as they prove that a computer can't perform at the same level as humans. 

     Technology has intensified the role of American libraries as equalizers of opportunity.  Just as Benjamin Franklin and Andrew Carnegie needed access to books to self improve and pursue their American Dream, people must have access to technology just to keep up and not become invisible.  "The library world has responded heroically to the burgeoning use of technology, making computers readily available to populations that would otherwise be left behind in these digital days.  They offer classes on how to use the computer and are developing innovative ways to use technology for educational and entertainment purposes (e.g., gaming in the library, Info Island in SecondLife, webportals, blogs, and social networking sites)" (Willingham 8).  "Many libraries are teaming with historical societies to digitize archives, making them free and available to anyone anywhere" (Boerema).  An example of this is the Beryl Ford Collection, a collaborative effort between the Tulsa Historical  SocietyThe Rotary Club of Tulsa, and the Tulsa City County Library to digitize Mr. Ford's collection of historical Tulsa photos.    By providing free to all access to information technology libraries ensure that a diverse population has greater access to information from a wider variety of sources. 

            Despite and perhaps because there are more and more opportunities for people to connect digitally people seem to feel more and more disconnected from each other. "People are desperately seeking a sense of community, a voice in decisions that affect their lives, and solutions to our most pervasive public problems.  But they have repeatedly been left out of such decisions and, as a result, may feel alienated and have retreated from the public sphere.  Public leaders have failed to find meaningful ways to turn people's passion into action."(Willingham 102).  The library can help fill this gap by providing both the physical and metaphorical space for community building.  The shushing librarian policing quietness is giving way to librarians facilitating the noise of civic discourse.  Instead of shrinking in fear from new technology, librarians are harnessing the power of technology to do what they've always done, which is build bridges.  "They are not only relevant to their community; they are central players in engaging the public in civic discourse, weaving organizations and resources together, bridging divisions, and developing the capacity for their communities to solve problems...Libraries will remain necessary as long as there are homes without computers, people who do not read, citizens who need voting information, curious children, and people who enjoy the company of others in an intellectually stimulating setting" (Willingham 97-98). Libraries are using technology to enhance democracy by creating better ways to keep the electorate informed and connected to one another.




American Library History

Stereotypes of the Library Profession

Segregated Libraries

Libraries Works Cited


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