Are Libraries Obsolete?

Will Sherman writes at that librarians are not obsolete. In fact, he offers a list of 33 reasons that libraries and librarians are still extremely important.

Many predict that the digital age will wipe public bookshelves clean, and permanently end the centuries-old era of libraries. Technology’s baffling prowess and progress even has one librarian predicting the institution’s demise. He could be right.

But if he is, then the loss will be irreplaceable. As libraries’ relevance comes into question, they face an existential crisis at a time they are perhaps needed the most. Despite their perceived obsoleteness in the digital age both libraries — and librarians — are irreplaceable for many reasons. 33, in fact. We’ve listed them here.

The list — minus Sherman’s elaboration on each point — is as follows:

  1. Not everything is available on the internet.
  2. Digital libraries are not the internet.
  3. The internet isn’t free.
  4. The internet complements libraries, but it doesn’t replace them.
  5. School libraries and librarians improve student test scores.
  6. Digitization doesn’t mean destruction.
  7. In fact, digitization means survival.
  8. Digitization is going to take a while. A long while.
  9. Libraries aren’t just books.
  10. Mobile devices aren’t the end of books or libraries.
  11. The hype might really just be hype.
  12. Library attendance isn’t falling — it’s just more virtual now.
  13. Like businesses, digital libraries still need human staff.
  14. We just can’t count on physical libraries disappearing.
  15. Google Book Search “doesn’t work”.
  16. Physical libraries can adapt to cultural change.
  17. Physical libraries are adapting to cultural change.
  18. Eliminating libraries would cut short an important process of cultural evolution.
  19. The internet isn’t DIY.
  20. Wisdom of crowds in untrustworthy because of the tipping point.
  21. Librarians are the irreplaceable counterparts to web moderators.
  22. Unlike moderators, librarians must straddle the line between libraries and the internet.
  23. The internet is a mess.
  24. The internet is subject to manipulation.
  25. Libraries’ collections employ a well-formulated system of citation.
  26. It can be hard to isolate concise information on the internet.
  27. Libraries can preserve the book experience.
  28. Libraries are stable while the web is transient.
  29. Libraries can be surprisingly helpful for news collections and archives.
  30. Not everyone has access to the internet.
  31. Not everyone can afford books.
  32. Libraries are a stopgap to anti-intellectualism.
  33. Old books are valuable.

Much of this list is defensive. Moreover, parts of it are examples of poorly-reasoned wishful thinking: “It can be hard to isolate concise information on the internet”? Give me a break. If it’s hard to isolate concise information on the internet, I guarantee it’s more difficult to isolate concise information in a library. And it will take days instead of minutes. I think the aspects of the list that emphasize human interaction and the preservation of book culture are more convincing than those denigrating the internet.

But I mostly agree with the author’s main point: librarians and libraries are a necessary and vital resource, even in today’s increasingly digital world. I give the librarians I know a hard time because they all seem to be on a holy crusade, convinced that their profession is the noblest of all. In reality, I appreciate their work. To learn more about each of these 33 points, read the entire article.

[ Are librarians totally obsolete?]


  1. Amy Jo said,

    February 20th, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    On wonderful thing I’ve gleaned from the Internet is the e-mail addresses or phone numbers for librarians in other parts of the world. Sure is nice to be able to shoot off an e-mail to a librarian at a particular library while in search of a specific, and often one-of-a-kind, map.

  2. Hans Persson said,

    March 11th, 2007 at 3:38 am

    I’d say that the above list displays a little bit of insight and a large dollop on a listmaker being run over by evolution in action. Most of the items on the list can easily be turned around to argue in the opposite direction.

    Not everyone has access to the internet.
    Sure. Not everyone lives close to a library either. Actually, more people probably have a phone line (and thus, the opportunity to use the net) than proximity to a library.

    Physical libraries are adapting to cultural change.
    This has to be the best item on the list. Libraries adapt to cultural change, and, by implication, the internet does not? The mind boggles trying to conceive of the thinking that would put an item like this as an argument for paper vaults.

    Library attendance isn’t falling — it’s just more virtual now.
    Uh, yes… Thanks to what? The internet, by any chance?

    I could go on and on, but I think this should be enough. I’m not saying libraries are useless. Librarians that think the internet is, though, are.

  3. 2retrograde said,

    January 12th, 2022 at 4:28 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Post a Comment