In an age of tablets and screens, are paper books a luxury? They have a great battery life, but that’s just about the only advantage books have over their electronic cousins. You can’t read paper books in the dark (they have no inbuilt backlight), they have limited file storage, and they’re bulky and heavy compared to a sleek tablet.

Yes, this is a bit facetious of us. There is a serious issue to be discussed here, and that is that the traditional model of public libraries is a space that provides access to information in the form of rows upon rows of books. However, we now have the internet performing a very similar function. Do we still need public libraries? What role can they play in such an information-rich world?

Curious to know more about the role of libraries in the digital age? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Victor, who is angry that public libraries are closing down. But why is it happening? Is it because the march of technology is making paper books outdated? Or is that just an excuse to cut public budgets and withdraw services? Why are libraries being closed?

To get a response, we spoke to Ilona Kish, Programme Director (Public Libraries 2020) of the Reading and Writing Foundation.

For another perspective, we also put the same question to Esther de Lange, a Dutch MEP and Vice-Chair of the centre-right Group of the European People’s Party. How would she respond?

So, what is the role of libraries in the digital age? Can they serve as community hubs? Can they offer a place to help train people in digital skills, or provide online access to groups that might otherwise be excluded from the internet?

We put this question to Katerina Havrlant, Marketing Director of the Grow with Google Digital Skills Programme. What would she say?

Next up, we had a comment from Chalks, who says he has been working with homeless people for a decade. Chalks highlights the important of community centres as a vital way to access services. Could that be the role libraries play in a digital age? As a way to offer services to vulnerable groups, such as homeless people?

How would Ilona Kish from the Reading and Writing Foundation respond?

And what would Dutch MEP Esther de Lange say to the same question?

Finally, we had a comment from Ferenc who is worried about a growing “digital divide”, with some groups (such as elderly people) lacking the necessary skills to make use of the internet. Could libraries help teach people new skills, access online services, and close any “digital divide”?

We put this comment to Google’s Katerina Havrlant for her to respond:

What is the role of libraries in the digital age? Can they act as community centres to help vulnerable groups access services? Can they help teach and train people in digital skills? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – Chinnapong
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18 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Pam Jones

    Our library is already a community hub. It has a coffee bar serving the elderly who can chat or read their paper. A toddler group. Lots of books and free internet access. Some evenings it’s been a music venue or hosted events as part of local festivals. On one occasion it had a huge model railway set up of how the local network used to look in the last century giving a valuable historical insight to local people. It hosts regular displays. All in addition to the usual reading projects with children, asylum seekers etc. If you want to see what a library can do you need to visit Lancaster in NW England.

    • avatar
      Elspeth Anderson

      Libraries are an absolute must, a place to order books one cannot afford to buy, friendly library staff to answer queries, care for the books. Children’s library essential, also community provision, central to an area.

  2. avatar
    Brice

    Libraries are an absolute must!

  3. avatar
    Tymbus

    Well it would be nice if they had more books!

  4. avatar
    Marion

    It’s to the detriment of new books on the shelves though. Mostly seem to be used for internet access.

  5. avatar
    Philip

    Education, research, resources, cross referencing, reading for pleasure, community focal point, sanctuary from noise, sharing, discovery….I could go on

  6. avatar
    Olivia

    Love the library started bringing my son from 3yrs old library a must

  7. avatar
    Chris

    Books, quiet contemplative reading space, research and digital.

  8. avatar
    Ian

    Community groups and basic computer skills training for the generations who didn’t have them at school.

  9. avatar
    Ann

    Never let the love of BOOKS die! Reading the printed word in the pages of a book is satisfying in some magical way no other form of communication can match

  10. avatar
    Hetta

    Books are stilk essential but libraries could be used addisionally for different kinds of workshops and training

  11. avatar
    Hetta

    But please we NEED BOOKS. They are irreplaceble!

  12. avatar
    Ian

    Use the library regularly . Think they need more books . The big library in the next town has closed and the part they’ve opened is now half the size or smaller . Very sad .

  13. avatar
    Tim

    Libraries have a huge social function and for many elderly or those that live alone, it may be one of the few opportunities to come into contact with others during the week. Also, the various book reading, knitting, baby sing along sessions, author visits etc. So, apart from the book in / book out function, they are a huge community resource and long may they continue! My wife had worked in one for nearly 30 years too!!

  14. avatar
    Γιώργος

    Sanctuary for motivation inspiration focus

  15. avatar
    Marc Cheyne

    I wish librarys weren’t used as crèches for noisy infants. We should have national crèches for that!

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