David Lee King’s post The Physical Library in the 21st Century raises a lot of interesting questions. Will people still go to the library, and how do we get them back in the building? Does the place even matter anymore?
I am of the mind that people, despite being able to connect to resources remotely, will still crave the physical space. In a world where space is more and more commodified, the value of public space is going to be come a central issue. Keeping the internet as “public space” and success in fighting all attempts to make it more like cable is going to be a huge part of this battle.
I went out for noodles tonight and the man who served me recognized me from his visit a few weeks ago, in which I helped him find some CDs to help him learn English. I don’t know how many people who need the library most would reach it if not physically. The personal connection of customer service, of a human interaction is something that the web does not yet provide. I have 50 Facebook friends and interacting with all of them at once is nothing compared to eye contact with just one.
There’s still a primal sense of place within us. Some of us think of networks as places, but it’s going to take a long time for that to become a prevailing mainstream thought. We can’t ignore online users. We should absolutely be cultivating a participatory experience for people. Public libraries are behind the progress of the web, and we should be positioning ourselves instead as trendsetters. Comparing the internet and the public library’s probably not fair, because anyone who’s ever worked for a city/county/municipal bureaucracy knows that it’s hardly a free and fluid system.