Libraries and newspapers
I could not have predicted Web 2.0 or the popularity of craigslist ten years ago, when I first got interested in the Internet. But I have been a life long newspaper reader, who has migrated to the daily online format. I don’t love the digital version of the National Post. Somehow my time is more precious and I no longer buy a daily newspaper and I often wonder if print newspapers will be around in the same incarnation in 10 years time. Clay Shirky, who writes about open source software, web economics and social computing, claims that newspapers did not recognize that society need journalism, an unbiased reporting of events, and newspapers are just the vehicle for journalism.
Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.
I would argue libraries are also caught in this conundrum. Libraries are not to be confused with warehouse of stuff; they are merely a way to spread information and then knowledge. Public libraries, in particular, may be where a child first learns to love books. Or a fledgeling entrepreneur finds the support to launch a business empire. Libraries, like newspapers, need to look beyond the obvious and see what purposes they fill in people’s lives and continue to be relevant institutions.
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