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 Is it because the march of technology is making paper books outdated?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
Editorially independent content supported by: Google. See our FAQ for more details.



32 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

    Libraries are an absolute must!

  3. avatar

    Well it would be nice if they had more books!

  4. avatar

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

  5. avatar

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

  6. avatar

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

  7. avatar

    Books, quiet contemplative reading space, research and digital.

  8. avatar

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

  9. avatar

    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

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

  11. avatar

    But please we NEED BOOKS. They are irreplaceble!

  12. avatar

    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

    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

    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!

  16. avatar

    The same as it used to be as reading/researching online might be convenient but should certainly not replace paper books or physical libraries. Different skills and experience all to be retained

  17. avatar
    Carmen Esteva de Marranzini

    Technology has brougth a lot of changes to individuals and institutions. Inevitably, changes cause transformations and we have to assume them. I think that if libraries don’t change the services they provide, the face the risk of becoming obsolete.

  18. avatar

    It gives a wider access to more reading materials, although holding a book is a different feeling, than reading on a monitor.

  19. avatar

    They’re only for tourist attraction.

  20. avatar

    I suppose libraries have become for a niche of people interested in in depth research. Nonetheless Books are still loved by a Wide part of the population, the difference from the past Is that people buy books and dont take them from libraries.

  21. avatar

    libraries have a way to show what there is to read that you never can achieve online…the phisical display makes a difference

  22. avatar

    All libraries must become digitalized and thir content free for use by anyone

  23. avatar

    All libraries must become digitalized and their content free for use by anyone

  24. avatar

    I can go to my library and borrow books, audio books, movies in many formats, music in many formats, I can play the latest video games as well as some games that are older than me, I can also participate in social events there. Most often, however, I use it as a study space and as a place to pick up books that I’ve ordered online.

    So, overall, I would say that the local library is a portal to the shared cultural sphere of the global, European, national and local community. Libraries will have an important task in making sure that the poorest in our societies get to access cultural products so that nobody is left behind.

  25. avatar

    Always have a reason to exist

  26. avatar

    I read e-books. Cheaper and old books are better, in my opinion. I would not know what a new book should have in order to be good, yet.

  27. avatar

    Information of how to find what you are seeking for.

  28. avatar
    Gail Richards

    Libraries bring connection, understanding and a way into doo many amazing places – with other folk around you to share and enjoy together

  29. avatar

    Libraries in the digital age should develop digital life!

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