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What is the future of libraries?

Libraries withdraw (either throw out, resale, or recycle) print materials all the time. Many libraries say that these print materials are being replaced by resources on the web or non print resources. But with the rising costs of subscriptions, licensing, legal issues involved with copyright, privacy and what not, how can libraries provide access to all of these types of materials? Are libraries throwing out some of our heritage when withdrawing print materials? Where are libraries heading and how can they navigate the waters of freedom of expression in a digital age, security, public access, or free services.

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    Sep 19 2011: Why don't we just start heading to the library more often, and encourage others to do the same. Then we wont have to worry about the future of libraries. Start a movement or something, one that encourages frequent visits, something personalized, include a book group or something. People want the libraries, but we need to reconcile them into our lives (and our schedule) once again.
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      Sep 24 2011: Eduardo tu punto de vista esta nutrido de un profundo sentido comùn. Necesitamos reconciliarnos con los libros. Ellos estàn bien, nosotros somos los que nos alejamos. Felicidades por tu sensatez.
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        Oct 4 2011: Thanks! And not that problems don't come up along the way (given the way out technology and our culture are advancing) but yeah, I just feel we really are the ones who distanced themselves. The libraries didn't go anywhere, they're still where they were. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but those were the words I was looking for "we're the ones who put distance". Thanks for the help, its really bothersome to have an incomplete thought.
  • Sep 18 2011: I see libraries as not just a home for print material and printing services from the internet access that they offer, but as an important community hub. Many local authorities in the UK are cutting back on social and community provision and 'saving public funds' by closing many services and this unfortunately includes libraries. But a library can be an important base of community activity and provide a focal point that can bring many areas of the community together and introduce many to the wonder of books and learning for the first time.Print, electronic, local or cloud. I love libraries.
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      Sep 19 2011: Libraries have positive effects for the community and society - way beyond literature and education. The economic theory even has a name for such benefits which you can not count, but are obviously existing - so called "external effects".
      Wayne - you are more than right. And the UK government will realize soon that cutting funds for libraries will increase other social costs - and they might understand that libraries were quite cost-effective.....

      I see a parallel between the non-regulation of banks and profits ruining the world and cutting of public funds ruining the world. Somehow UK governments lost touch to reality - it is so sad.
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      Sep 24 2011: Wayne a librarie is the right amount of books that you need or love or read. You dont have to wait for institucional funds or support from gobernement. You can do your own librarie in your home. Then you are one of the community centers if you invite to your family or friends to read or discuss some about some book. Why you dont organize a reders net in your neighborhood?
  • Sep 18 2011: My local library is always full of people reading to their children, using the computers, and browsing physical books. I don't think humanity is ready to give up tangible resources. I personally hate snuggling up to a digital device in bed or as i read outside. I think libraries are headed towards having higher quality materials. Even if a book starts off in digital format, if the sales are good and there should be no problem with copyrights.
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    Oct 9 2011: Libraries I think will be a little like churches: cold, quiet places where one goes to meditate :)
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    Oct 5 2011: Digital books are a passing fad and it is foolhardy for libraries to get rid of printed material in the wake of such temporary trends.
  • Oct 4 2011: What about this idea,if you are interested about something in the Chinese medicine,we put a professor in the library.Let him give you some direction.It's far more better than the pdf.
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    Sep 26 2011: In Japan, So many people took their books out of their homes to book scan shops & came back with a small hard drive. This helped in creating an extra space & storing valuable information for future easy referrences.
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    Sep 26 2011: The primary purpose will be public access to the internet unless we socialize that access. There will still be buildings to store these books but it will be more like a warehouse than a library.

    Most forms of physical media will phase out which is why I collect books now.
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    Sep 24 2011: The British Library has gone digital - showing how new technology can increase access to its collections. An example - maybe even an international role modell to combine the best of online and offline?!
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      Sep 25 2011: Can anyone 'borrow' from the digital library? Or do you have to be a member of the library?

      What a great way to be able to see the collections of the libraries around the world! While I will always prefer a book in my hand, if I can be given the opportunity to view some of the books in the British Library, or a library in Sydney or anywhere on earth, I'll gladly become a member of the worldwide library association!
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      Sep 24 2011: Those are great ideas, Vartan. Some libraries are already implementing them. My own favourite library has comfortable chairs for reading and others for enjoying cds with head phones. It has such a wide variety of things to learn from "play away books", to cds, to books on cd or tape, to movies, and even books for e-readers.
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          Sep 26 2011: Jason you are right. I express sincerely my humble apologies to all.
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    Sep 23 2011: Maybe the best future of libraries is to be reading.
    • Sep 24 2011: Yes, that is good! However, humans do not NEED a library to read. Humans need to GO to a library and READ! (naww, too much trouble) That in itself, will be the down fall of real libraries. HUMANS! With Respect to You!
  • Sep 22 2011: If we aim to educate the entire human race, let the resources of the most advanced schools in the world be available to people hungry for knowledge.
    • Sep 24 2011: Hi Rudy,
      This is an excellent reply! One question, are humans really hungry for "knowledge" ??
      We listen to the news, 24/7. Most humans hunger for, housing, food, water, electricity. So,, I do not get it? I I am beginning to think, knowledge has taken the back "burner" ?? With Respect to You Rudy.
      • Sep 26 2011: Hi,

        Not all people were given the 24/7 access to information from news and other forms of media. There are several social and economical constraints such as poverty, government censorship and others.
        • Sep 26 2011: Hi back at ya!
          I agree with you! However, one does not have the excuse of poverty to visit a library. UNLESS, one lives in a society, that does not have a library. I know, I know, there are societies that have no access to a library. Humans do not need 24/7 news. Humans need libraries, to learn in the future. They need to read about how bad we screwed up! ( sad face)
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      Sep 27 2011: I believe this is already being done. Open source education. I will post when I find the school that started this. Its top tier schools that are doing this too.

      MIT opencourseware
      Stanfords engineering everywhere
      Academic earth

      To name a few
  • Sep 20 2011: Library use has gone up recently due to the recession even as library funding has declined. People use them to save money, find jobs, do research for new businesses, for community meetings, and to access the Internet if they don't have it at home, etc. I think the future is that they become platforms for sharing all kinds of things (tools, seeds, sports equipment, toys, etc.), not just media, and play a important role as open access community centers in the transition to a sustainable society.

    And coincidentally, Shareable Magazine is doing a series on the future of the libraries. Part one of three is: "Libraries Aren't Dying, They're Evolving":

    The author Cat Johnson says that in the end, libraries become what we want them to become, and advises people to get involved and help shape their direction.
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    Sep 19 2011: You are proposing Public Access and Free Services for the Libraries of the future: If digital or not, this implies costs and they need to be paid. You are right about this. Agreed.

    If our VALUES make us want Public Access and Free Services, then we must have and provide for public funds to do so. 1 + 1 = 2 ?!

    An Alternative Example from Istanbul:
    The "Music Library" is the first private music library in Turkey, opening a great opportunity for young population, mostly students interested in music.
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    Sep 15 2011: Hi Jennifer Eustis
    Libraries, the actual physical structures with printed and other materials in them serve us in ways that no web site can. Besides the feel of books as cultural comfort, they also inspire. If books and people are not reaching each other, it is the job of librarians to facilitate those relationships however they can. See
    and you can download the book written by the crazy people who spent all night in the library writing that celebratory tome. Check it out.

    Mark Hurych
    • Sep 15 2011: I really like the idea of looking to the past to understand our future. Thanks for the links.
  • Sep 14 2011: Definitely an interesting topic. In the city where I live (Toronto), there have been discussions on funding cuts to libraries in past months.

    I think for the public library system to stay alive, they need to focus on their strength of in-person interactions, and also get on board heavily with the digital world (ie. allowing you to "take out" ebooks, and provide other free subscription-based services).
  • Sep 14 2011: I agree with Debra that libraries are much more than books or e-books. They provide a large array of services. In my area, the large academic library has labtops, iPads, cameras, and bikes to loan out. They have journals in print and online from around the world. During finals, they have programs to help students destress. However, in order to meet all of these demands, it takes more money each year. And from what I've seen, towns and institutions are giving less to libraries. Take Oregon or Boston where branches have been closed.
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      Sep 15 2011: Well, the academic library in your area is fantastic, I must say! Unfortunately they are not the same everywhere else, especially if they are public libraries (at least in Argentina).
  • Sep 14 2011: I imagine that for the near future (20-40 years) libraries will still have a presence on college campuses if only to maintain traditions.

    As the generations who value physical books die out, libraries will loose a lot of patronage.

    It is just an example of one technology replacing another. The phone replacing the telegraph. The internet and digital technologies replacing the library for information retrieval.

    Eventually, I can see a time when physical books become a novelty kept only for the bragging rights amongst colleges, cities or those who see themselves as the educated elite.
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      Sep 14 2011: Yes what you say is true but I don't think in any near year anything could replace books. See I hate staring at the screen, I get snippets online but nothing can replace book reference.
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        Sep 14 2011:
        You can read books from staring at the screen...looks like paper!
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          Sep 15 2011: guys guys please don't replace books.. something physical is far better than virtual please..
      • Sep 15 2011: In addition to what Srijan added, imagine if you had never grown up with books.

        Try to imagine how primitive books might seem to future generations.

        Ken Robinson made an excellent point about how younger generations tend not wear wrist watches anymore because they have cell phones which can do so much more.

        We are experiencing a paradigm shift and the shift is away from physical books.
        • Sep 15 2011: This is so true. It's amazing how visual oriented we have become. Even in libraries, the DVD, streaming, and sound recording collections grow every day. Where course reserves in academic libraries were mostly books, they tend to be online resources, DVDs, or streaming videos.
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          Sep 15 2011: Books are more than information. For inquiry and research nothing can compare with the internet which gets better and better every day, but text and illustrations on a screen will never be comparable to the physical and aesthetic experience of a well made book...
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          Sep 15 2011: Still, the future is probably going to be a lot more digital resources and reading from e-readers/tablets. I really hope however that they will preserve at least a few libraries with physical books. This is partly because of the fact that it is really great to walk into a large library and be overwhelmed by the sheer number of physical books on the shelves.
    • Sep 15 2011: I agree that books will become a novelty though it will be unpleasant for me and a few friends of mine. We love the feeling of finishing a book. Closing it and setting it down. SEEING how many pages were there, what we accomplished. Reading digital books simply isn't as satisfying. Sure we get the same information but the satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment are no longer there.
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    Sep 13 2011: If societies have any hope of surviving and prospering, I believe that preserving libraries is vital.
    There is no service in a society which does more for the advancement of a culture than libraries do. I am passionate about them as a user and as a beneficiary.
    I took my children to library reading programs when I was a young mother. The staff there were kind, considerate, engaged and proactive about the life of our community. I credit the influence of libraries for helping me become the first person in my family to every go to university and then to go on to graduate degrees. All of my children went to university as well and that is five for five. We glimpsed a world into which none of us had access before and we ran with the things we learned. Libraries are without question an amazing resource for transforming lives.

    Recently, on a TED conversation I agreed to try something different for 30 days. I decided to walk to the library (8 km round trip) because I was too sedentary and to help the environment rather than drive. When I got there, I spent more time there than usual to take advantage of my long walk. I suddenly realized the social service for the lost and lonely of our society that is conducted by librarians with patience and dignity.
    Finally, we should remember that even when Rockefeller and Carnegie needed to revamp their images, PR firms of the time advised them to establish libraries.
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      Sep 13 2011: Libraries are always present, so the future or the past are meaningless.
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      Sep 16 2011: Debra, Perhaps libraries may die but that doesnt mean people cant meet in a social aspect to enjoy books, stories whatever format they are in.

      I suppose I am thinking of when a writer promotes a book, he/she gets out there and presents it. These small events could actually become more a social event and important to those that wish to engage their familes in these activities. Much like....
      Weekly calender; mon, take kids to park, tues. washing and cleaning. wed, meeting with firends. thurs, Mr frapper's book launch (bring picnic for kids) etc...
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        Sep 24 2011: Hi Robert! Thanks for another good suggestion. I have to say however, that I still think libraries are the best experience for young families. All the other experiences you mention are wonderful but they do not sum up to as much as libraries have offered in my estimation.
  • Sep 13 2011: good question. they'll probably be converted to online book stores or maybe an e-reader will have a bar code that scans the books and leaves them there for a limited time
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    Sep 13 2011: I think this is a very interesting idea, trying to imagine the future always is. I don't believe libraries will be gone in our lifetime or even in the generation after that, but there is somewhat of a decline. With all of these electronic readers, libraries become mostly useless. You don't necessarily have to maintain or refurbish data. The problem is, people like me still enjoy a physical book over reading a screen. It's more convenient for many people to rent books from the library rather than buy them, too.
    I was in my local library today and noticed there were so many people, despite being the middle of a weekday. Libraries may be dying slowly, but they still have plenty of use. Besides the book aspect, they're great for learning of all styles. Internet access, audiobooks, and the occasional expert are there to be used for "free."
    The only thing I can complain of about non-physical learning is that you have to look to find things. You can go to Google to look for a resource hub, like a virtual library, to find various topics. What about the times when you don't know what you're looking for? You can't just skim Google and find specific things that interest you. But you can in a library. As it was mentioned in Hans Rosling's statistics talk, there is so much information not available to the public through the internet. Some of that information can be found in books. And it's free.

    All in all, the library as we know it may die some day, but I can't see it happening in the near future.
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    Oct 8 2011: I would think of the future of libraries should be based on the key words that users find then the libraries' engines will send the ebooks that closely met the requirements of the users. Based on the ranking of the key words that used by users, they can suggest which one is needed. In other words, libraries will work like news RSS mechanism.
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    Oct 8 2011: If somebody dont want his books because dont see any future in them, please send it to me, to enhance my own library
    I'll really be delighted with your donations.
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      Oct 8 2011: Not yet. I still use my library for soundproofing !
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    Oct 7 2011: The question really is what is happening to the brain in the library that is missing in the electronic version. Obviously the electronic version is superior on so many levels it does not need pointed out.

    1. Its an emotional / historical attachment. Pure conditioning and a generation without books will not even think it is an issue.

    2. There is something happening from the physical motor and 3d interaction with the book in the brain that is more engrossing

    We know from neuroscience that motor activity / visuospatial skills and learning are linked through the thalamus to striatum and then back to the temporal encoding sites of the hippocampus. So getting up to go find then pick up a book and flick through it activating a lot of in between priming sequences that might aid in consolidation.

    I try to offset this personally by having about 4 workstations around my flat with about a dozen screens, many touch and in a 3d desktop environment. Also trying to convert this to stereoscopic use for massive spatial immersion.

    Each workstation is dedicated to different areas. I have a USB drive and am forced to get up and go round swap drives, move data around. Sure i could have it all linked through a hub, but then i will just end up sitting down too much.

    Maybe these new 3d mobile devices will be the solution. i,e. The LG autostereoscopic mobile phone just on the market is the start, then there will be the iPAD version. So you will be on the move and the information interaction will be both physical and stereoscopic (holographic) in space.

    and how to simulate it
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    Oct 6 2011: Hi Jennifer ... I haven't read through the 94 comments currently available, but I hope that someone has pointed out to you that not all libraries are funded to the same extent, nor do they all serve the same purpose.

    A "circulating library" such as a public or school library has neither the space nor resources to maintain effective archives. Did you know that it has been estimated that it costs approximately $40 a year to keep each book on a library shelf, whether it is being used or not?

    But you should not fear any loss of heritage - the Library of Congress has at least one copy of every book ever published in the USA. And always will, barring an major catastrophe.

    If you are speaking of academic libraries, I feel confident that the only journals etc that are been culled are ones with the same content available through databases such as Lexis Nexis - where they can be much more rapidly searched than is the case with print resources.

    Where are libraries heading? The same place they always were, since the times of the Alexandrian Library, but within the budget constraints that are beyond their control. There is no institution on this planet that is more committed to public access than Libraries.
  • Oct 5 2011: I think the term "library" confines the parameters of how we think of this institution. What if we called it "The Learning Center" or "The Information Station". All of your ideas then are applicable. There would be no debate about printed or digital as it wouldn't matter how we get our "Learning" or "Information". Lots of classes are held at these institutions now so why not expand that process to actual college credit certified courses. The local business community could get involved to effect the process so we might be able to deliver training classes in whatever the local economy job structure demands. This institution could then evolve to become THE local hotspot for all of a community's functions. Now if only Starbucks would make a big push to get into them also.....?
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    Oct 5 2011: It is clear that ebooks and the latest technology have completely overturned the book market. Some writers already offer their own books through the Web, usually for a charge. But the Internet is more than a showcase. The Web is also a place of exchange, a channel through which the dialogue between the author and his readers can take place without intermediaries. So we will see more and more new reader groups and communities with the same interest. The members of these networks will develop interactions, not only with the writer, but also with the other members of these virtual communities. This development probably means the disappearance of the traditional literature market, although there will always be a place for the promotion and publication market. Authors and publishers will therefore have to adapt their relations to this development. It is obvious that publishers will also use virtual tools as a communication means and adapt to the new technologies in a creative and commercial manner.
  • Oct 1 2011: What I expect is that eventually libraries will only be places to keep the old original texts. As a result, there will be very few libraries in the world. Why keep libraries when all the books are online? For some, it's because they don't like the feel of reading on a computer, tablet, or even an e-reader. This will, however, change eventually when other technologies are used like e-paper. Technologies that give you the feel and comfort of reading from a book without having the actual book.

    Moreover, the generations that will come after us will probably be using books less than we do. South Korea and Turkey have already started planning to replace tablets with books, and eventually most of the world will make the transfer from real books to e-books. Future generations will not be looking for the comfort or feel of a normal book if they are more familiar with an e-book.

    Another interesting thing we might see in the future are open-source books. What if there comes a time when many authors offer their books for free? Imagine the possibilities...
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    Oct 1 2011: They will / must evolve. That being said, predicting the form of that evolution will be influenced but not solely determined by the technology of the day. Humans will still need a place to aggrigate, or in dense housing situations - to escape their confines. It will also continue to be used by cultural subgroups divergently.
  • Sep 27 2011: We readers first came to web then the books followed us. Referring to the case of fees, this concept is new and it will take some time for realization of its full potential.

    Book/library does not mean by what format its content is presented or stored. The key here is the maximum and closer to its readers.
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    Sep 27 2011: Indeed - me too. I like reading the printed book on vacations and in my free time; the digital book is for me more a work and business tool - searching for key words in PDFs asf.

    Maybe we will see that digital and real habits will add - not substitute?!
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    Sep 26 2011: I believe the future of libraries will be books in 3D electronic format. All information will be available through a centralized query system which will give feedback and archives in the form of hard books, eBooks, audio, video and anything else that google pulls out. However all the above mentioned in 3D format inside a booth system which would give privacy to all. Having said that I doubt real books would ever be made redundant given the vast amount of information and interpretations which have still not been digitalized...however things such as nano technology and 3D animations amaze me and give so much more clarity when visualized - watch the animation called "Treasure Planet" and you will know what I mean by 3D books...
  • Sep 26 2011: Hi, Thanks for the comment tishe,

    I guess the term hungry in my comment does not necessarily refers to the basic needs. you see, other than these basic needs for every human in the third world countries to survive, we also have thinkers and innovators who lacks the access to the right information which could help them create better tools and develop ideas to help our people. I guess there is a need for every nation to somehow converge on to something with thrid world countries. It may not be with the kind of development advanced countries has but maybe on the knowledge. =)
  • Sep 26 2011: I was surprised to hear a coworker talking about how he "checks out" digital copies of books from the library and reads them on his nook. Just like the real book, if there are no copies checked in, he has to wait. Glad to see that libraries are keeping up with technology and I hope this helps bring in revenue for them from all of the techies.
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    Sep 25 2011: An insert in today's newspaper (Parade Magazine) had an article about The Little Library That Could. It is about a small town library in Parker, Arizona. The library is the local form of amusement as they have no movie theatre or bookstore in the town. The library has had its funding cut, so it could not buy books, had to cut hours and cut staff in half (from four to two). Instead of closing it down, the town is rallying around the library. It is where they go to use computers to go on the internet; they get books to read and meet with friends. It is a place to go after school for the students instead of hanging around, possibly getting into trouble.

    This is what I remember about going to the library (although not the internet - wasn't around when I was in school). It was a place to socialize (in the appropriate locations) and to study. It was a place for meetings and to meet people.

    The brick and mortar building must remain as a community place. Its mission may change from receptical of books to something else, but it must remain as a part of a small town, or a big city.

    Are there libraries out there that 'lend' out e-readers? I know some do lend e-books.
  • Sep 25 2011: Libraries in the digital age need to continue to foster the ability of the individual to get to the information they need to balance the curiosity vs passion equations that push our society forward. In my life, a library was a place where you went to get help finding answers. The digital age has enabled some people to find some answers, but the saying ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ still applies. Librarians and research assistants may not know the answer to your questions, but they do know how to help you find the answers and are typically experts in all resources, including the internet. Library Science professionals train to do what they do, and as far as I can tell, the ones I interact with are very good at their job. Libraries have always been a quiet place to focus on the written word and communications media. Visitors are left to decide what to read, formulate their own thoughts and pursue their curiosity as far as their passion takes them. The building and the rules of the library are a symbol that this place honors this endeavor, in the same way a church honors religious activities and prayer. The one exception is when some visitors need help to understand how to enjoy reading, such as those just learning to read. Storybook reading sessions introduce many children to characters and stories that are often seeds for future creativity, sometimes life lessons, and exposure to areas of long-term interest. People can learn to use the resources available, including the internet, at the library.
    Managing the power, greed, and control associated with creating knowledge and art in electronic form and balancing the rights of the public against the rights of the artists and creators/owners of the information is a very challenging multi-faceted problem that will test the fields of library science, law, and electronic communications. Librarians are the players in that game I trust the most to do what is right for the people. They have my support.
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    Sep 25 2011: Possibilites in the next 20-30 years:
    1. Large storage locations at remote places, rack space at some data center, selling valuable building sites in the city centers and investing the money back into digitizing the valuable heritage.
    2. Rduced in size, converted into museums plus what I said in 1.
    3. Go extinct because people would use more electronic versions

    There are great opportunities to collaborate in this area.
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    Sep 24 2011: While I much prefer a book to an electronic version, it is the way of the world now. There's even an app to 'borrow' an electronic book from many libraries.

    I think what may be the demise of some library systems is NOT joining the electronic age. My local library is not one of those who is involved with electronic books. It has been a chore to get them to get a book I want to read from another library - so much so I haven't been in over a year. I have to go back and see if things have improved, but based on the budgets, etc. for my city, I'm going to guess it will be much the same as before.

    I don't want to see a total conversion to electronic media. As I've mentioned in a reply to another poster, there is nothing like curling up on the sofa on a miserable day and getting lost in a book. Good or bad, there's usually something there to make you think or help you get lost in another world when you need to escape this one for a bit. Snuggling up with an e-reader, just isn't the same.
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      Sep 24 2011: Deborah the eagle in your arm tells a lot about you. Also your alma mater: Sacred Hearth.
      I've studied in Sacro Cuore Colegio da Milano . I And I love the eagles and falcons.
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        Sep 25 2011: Luigi - the falcon (his name is Haggis) is because I wanted to learn something about falconry. I took a course in how to fly a falcon because I love medieval mysteries and I wanted to try something different for my birthday that year.

        As for going to Sacred Heart - it was a local community college when I went. It was the only school I could afford at the time; not my first choice. I was able to go there because I worked for the school itself for 3 of the 3.5 years I attended. (I graduated early) I'm not Catholic - but I went to a Catholic university and did my graduate work at a university associated with the Jesuits (Fairfield University).

        Unfortunately, the library at SHU was not the best for a university. I understand it has improved quite a bit since I graduated in the mid-70s.
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          Sep 26 2011: Aaaaahhhhh¡¡¡¡¡ the medieval misteries. We have a lot to share. In your interest, the medieval age is like going one step back, this is very good because you going out from all the masses that going forward, directly to...----------------------------(fill the line.)
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          Oct 7 2011: Deborah, we inform you with our deep sadness that our beloved frien Luigi died in a terrible accident in Rome yesterday. Please pray for him.
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          Oct 7 2011: I'm so sorry a member of the TED community has left us, Jaime. I didn't know him through interacting with him, but enjoyed reading his comments recently. Thank you for sharing this. It brings home how fragile each life is, and how sacred each contact, every conversation is with one another. I will pray for him, and all of those whose lives his touched.
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          Oct 9 2011: Jaime Lubin

          In Luigi we had one of the most brilliant and profound TEDsters,

          I am saddened with the news...
          His last words in TED were, "Si puo vivere il presente." (We can live the present)
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    Sep 24 2011: My favorite library is Project Gutenberg. And then there are the 2,500 or so books in my home. And when I discover something that sounds interesting from a Scientific American Book Club or History Book Club mailer, I go to to see if I should download it to my Kindle or buy a hard copy or just pass.

    Libraries are all around us. It's just that they're now distributed, survive in the cloud, and often exist in cyberspace. The biggest problem is not availability of books -- it's making the contents stick inside my brain, which is obsolete since it's mostly based on a 250,000 year old design, brought somewhat up to date with a rickety, home-brew structure called 'culture'.
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      Sep 24 2011: The libraries are weel alive Varian, the readers are the ones who need revitalization. Urgent!
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    Sep 24 2011: I guess the physical existance of libraries would be eliminated and the whole thing will be networked to our world.
    The current books may be put into some sort of library museum and might be regarded as antics. When it comes to subscriptions and lendings... the software technology might have improved equally enough to check copyright and other norms. Or it might be possible to have infrastructure enough to facilitate direct reading over net page by page.
  • Sep 24 2011: Hi Jennifer,
    Do not know how old you are or how young. The Library is a thing of the past. We all know that.
    My best times, in my youth, was the library. I would get lost in the aisles of books!! ( i loved it!!) It will be gone soon. OH, unless, there is a contribution, yea? The future of our scholastic institutes, is gone. Cheer up! You can look it up on the internet! (do not trust wikipedia) did I spell that right? With Respect to You! :)
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    Sep 20 2011: Most libraries are monuments to the past. Information, references, texts, data are all much more accessible on-line. Libraries will serve as repositories of rare texts (e.g. Library of Congress). Question is: What will be the "rare text" in 250 years from now if it only existed in digital form from its inception? Servers?
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      Sep 24 2011: Alan the digital form is condemned to desapear in short time. Theres not any digital form that could survive more than 200 hundred years. Till today we dont found any better than paper. I work everyday in the Vatican libraries and in despite of digital advancements (servers, supports, new technologies, and I use all this)) we prefer to work on the phisic form of the book or the text. Right now I'm working in the translation of a ancient greek text write on papirus with threads of human hair (almost indestructible) and theres a lot of surprises: the ink (a mixture of olive oil, blood, animal urine, vinegar, wine and charcoal). The writing instrument (a calamus made on bamboo wood) nor to mention the text taht is about some geometrical formulas to solve the espherical equations. The document is from the third century B.C. and was found inside the pages of a big maps book from the XVI century printed in Spain. Is a small piece of papirus (18 x 24 cms), and has to be treated with a lot of care to reveal their content. Firt we treatd with some chemical steam to reinforce the traces, then the piece goes to the restoration institute, and latte rto translation. (my especific field.) Iknow very well about libraries, and also we recognize tht our work its impossible without a good expresso coffe.
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      Sep 24 2011: I dread the thought of losing books - real books that I can hold in my hand and enjoy the sight/smell/feel of. I use electronic media - I have the aps on my iPhone that I use to read books on the train to work or while traveling. But nothing, and I do mean nothing, will ever take the place of a rainy day, sitting on the couch under an afghan, with a good book and a cup of tea.

      I always worry about what will happen if my electronic devices lose power for too long - will all my 'e-books' be gone forever. Luigi - I envy you your job; working on those ancient texts must be fascinating. Who will do that with an iPad in 200 years? I don't see it happening.
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        Sep 24 2011: Deborah in 200 years your iPadwill be transformed in other things. The material in your devices are transformed already in different shapes to recycle. My job is really fascinating....very ancient texts and books and objects....of course more than 200 years of antiquity.
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    Sep 18 2011: I think, they could integrate (through gadgets) to be a part of many homes!

    I see another possibility - online sharing of digital books/materials , between friends/colleagues/strangers.
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    Sep 18 2011: Information and entertainment - same as always.
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    Sep 17 2011: The libraries here are doing really well with it. I was worried about this too but its seems like they are going with the pace of the time pretty well. With things like E-books or books on mp3 stuff llike that. Although I have to say I will be really dissapointed and sad if they end up replacing the paper books with their electronic equivalent. :)
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      Sep 17 2011: I am a writer so I love books (the paper variety) I am also ahem...getting on, so I really should be getting glasses which is relevant because I find reading via my iPad hurts my eyes (a paper book I cannot put down and must finish). So it distresses me to state that paper is a fast approaching extinct medium, it really does. I am sure persons felt the same about steam engines.
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    Sep 16 2011: It is interesting to note the word library from a Latin translation does not indicated books at all, only to peel (to write on bark). While the Greeks used bibliotheca, which does describe the use of a collection of books.

    In this context, Libraries will continue to be a relevant word to describe a place where large amounts of information can be found or digested. The format will/has changed unfortunately, due to new technologies such as the internet. Physical books will die out. The growing high cost and the damage done by pollutants to the rapidly vanishing ecosystem caused from producing paper, will make it virtually impossible to manufacture.

    In the intermediate, I see that humans are not yet ready to give up the romantic notion or relaxing experience of reading a physical book. It is evident of the mac iBook format, giving the reader the visual representation of reading a book. However I see this as a stop gap solution only, as humans grapple with rationalizing the “real” from the “cyber” realm. Soon technology will be so immersive that learning tools as well as relaxation tools will no longer be in the physical domain.

    I expect today’s up-coming youth will flock to the technology while the older gen’s may refuse to engage such immersive reality. So, Fifteen-twenty years and little to no public libraries left in western society at all. My estimate only.
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      Sep 24 2011: In my MBA I was forced to use some textbooks on-line or in digital format. This was initially a real hardship. I did discover after having to use a couple that I got more and more used to it and less resistant. I learned some ways to use them better and to learn more easily from them . In the end, though, I can never go back to remind myself about a particular point because you only have the right to the material for a specific time period. If I had a physical text book I could still go to my bookshelves and find the answer.
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        Sep 24 2011: Debra its not a fight : Books VS digital text. We have to find the harmony between. The uses and pourpouses are different.
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        Sep 24 2011: Debra - another good reason for books. If I have something I can use for reference material at hand, I don't have to worry about being online to 'search' for it again. I always seem to remember which physical book something is in, but can rarely remember the website quickly.

        Even if the book is from the library, I seem to remember it better than reading something online - any ideas on why that might be? (An open question to all the posters)
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        Sep 26 2011: Debra I want to express to you specially mi sincere and humble apologies.
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          Sep 26 2011: Luigi, Adoro la vostra saggezza, conoscenza e spirito. Fa male solo a me quando si è sprezzante. Sono molto serio nel mio desiderio di capire di più del mondo e così entusiasta di questa esperienza TED. Non si può sentirsi arrabbiato con qualcuno nel quale non sono investiti. Grazie per il vostro scuse. Il mio cuore e la mente sono sempre aperte per voi.
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      Sep 24 2011: Robert, respectfully,,,,,,,wrong estimate. (please could you define what thing is "western society)
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    Sep 16 2011: In my local library, of the 100 people that might be there at any one time, 85 of them are there for the free internet access, either in the computer resource room or soaking up some WiFi with their laptop/tablet/mobile device. The rest are there for story time in the children's wing.
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    Sep 15 2011: At my university, the library is trying to adapt to the new digital age by providing more workspaces with access to all kinds of reference materials. But they also have a fine collection of some of the more expensive and interesting magazines. My whole year did not know the university library had these magazines (which are very class-related). However, the "classic" library-part is dissapearing bit by bit. Instead, they are currently working on an information-system to replace all these hardcover books.

    I do think the "classic" library is going to dissappear, but it will be replaced by a digital center of knowledge. This center of knowledge will be able to hold more information, better combine all this information and make it searchable and connectable like the future-vision of the semantic web.
  • Sep 15 2011: I grew up with a librarian very close to me, she instilled a fabulous and intense love of written words and appreciation for libraries. However I'm ashamed to admit I rarely go to my library. As wonderful as they are, I've found it harder to get the books I want or need from them, then to go find the information on the internet. Waiting two weeks for a book to be sent from one library to another takes so long that often it arrives too late to be useful in a project for a class.
    The selling of their "extra" copies of books breaks my heart, though I gladly buy them up. I find there is a lack of wanting to take advantage of the libraries we still have because the internet is so much faster when searching for information.
    I'm not sure how long it will be, but public libraries will shut down sometime soon.
    • Sep 15 2011: But libraries also offer community programs and services for all ages. I know of libraries where the homeless go to warm up during the winter and the unemployed look for jobs on the internet. I think one of the problems that we have is that we associate libraries solely with books and not other community services. Also, libraries have materials beyond just books like journals, newspapers, databases, or research materials. Some of these materials are too expensive for a single individual to buy. But libraries have them.
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    Sep 15 2011: they should be used for more educational community children events. libraries should also push for increasing reading habits for the youth.
  • Sep 15 2011: Great question, but one that has been asked before. Not of libraries, but of other socially accepted engagements of years gone by. Who 400 years ago would ever had imagined that local theatre would not be the primary source of community accessible entertainment in the future, and yet the moving picture, the TV, the video, the DVD and then on-line streaming and download have advanced that medium to today. Is there a place for the theatre? YES, but it will be pursued only by the few who pursue it. Should libraries and books still exist? YES, but their threat will be to position themselves well to be pursued by the few or they will have to rename themselves as museums.
    Interesting article, highlights technologies continued threat of the print media. Who knows, maybe 400 years from now we will look on the iPad in the same way that we look at theatre now, or libraries in 50-100 years.
    • Sep 15 2011: That's a good point. I think libraries don't do a good job in terms of branding and developing an image beyond that of "this is where books are". The question that I would ask is how can libraries remove themselves from the "museum" image?
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    Sep 15 2011: I believe in the near future like Mr. Shingles stated before that libraries will still have a presence but just on a university campus. Any where else in the world libraries will be non existing for the simple fact that technology is steady getting better and pretty soon you will be able to access libraries on the computer rather than going to the library.
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    Sep 14 2011: Libraries might be closed up within few decades or maybe changed to Cyber Cafes. People might go their to borrow
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    Sep 14 2011: A wonderful question Jennifer..I have loved and haunted libraries since I was a tiny child

    .I hope libraries will always be a home for manuscripts and texts and beuatifully made books and that they can play a continuing role in every community in fostering literacy, a love of reading, and a love of books as well as fostering universal access to the internet.My mother took a course for "cyber Savvy seniors" at her local libabry at the age of 81 and the internet became an incredibly valuable infomation and social link for her as her world grew smaller.

    .Obviously, it's important for libabries to be community partners in fostering internet literacy and promoting universal access, and perhaps even making unqiue documents and books available on line

    .I hope, though, that libraries will always be a place to enjoy and teach a love of the printed book..of book arts.In the same way that a digital image of a Rothko can't possibly replace the experience of standing before it; an image of Hagia Sophia can't replace the physical experience of standing in it, breathing in it, texts and images on a screen can never replace or approach the richness of a physical encounter with a beuatifully made book

    Thanks again, Jennifer for your wonderful question.
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    Sep 13 2011: Since then, the library, no longer lonely! Haha
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    Sep 13 2011: Hello, I know, ha ha, just like our current political, economic, entertainment, technology appeared in the television media as well as the spread of online media, as well as the international ambassador and philanthropist public image of endorsement, such as Bill Gates, etc.
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    Sep 13 2011: i work at one, the only stuff that gets withdraw are either damged in some way or do not circ in long periods (im talking twice in a year for yearsss)