Did The Internet Render Libraries Obsolete?

Posted on June 22, 2012 in Specials

By Abhishyant Kidangoor:

“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest”Lady Bird Johnson

The advent of e-commerce and online marketing has indeed changed the way the human race works. The establishment of companies like eBay and Flipkart has made it easier to buy books. Such sites make the whole process of purchasing easier and sell the books at lower costs. This attracts more customers, who resort to easier ways to get books that they want, rather than lending it from a library, thus diminishing the usage of libraries by people, at large.. According to statistics, the number to books available for reference or lending has declined by 10%, over the past ten years. This decrement in the quality of the book stock has had a negative effect on the use of libraries. What more, with the ever decreasing number of people using a library, the government also takes up no effort in this direction. All this makes one wonder if libraries are obsolete.

Once known as “universities of street corner”, libraries these days are nowhere close to being universities. Rather, they have stooped down to the level of urbanized village halls. It is now, more of a rendezvous than a place of learning!

Libraries were created on a deficiency model. They were made to help people to assuage their need to gain more knowledge. Now, either those deficiencies and needs don’t exist or there are other organizations that address these issues in a better manner. The former is highly unlikely as they would never be a time or place without the urge to gain more knowledge. The rise of technology and the rapid rise in the use of the Internet indeed created a new organization that was in par with the libraries, as ‘sources of meaningful information’. Obviously and of course, there is no denying the fact that Internet is a pool of knowledge and that one could get whatever information one needs, in the nick of time. It also enables people to give their thoughts, views and opinions on different topics. And yes indeed, e-books are great way of getting even the latest books! But the truth is that the World Wide Web cannot be a substitute for libraries. It is just an undifferentiated mass of documents and information. A library, on the other hand, is an organized collection of cultural expressions!

While searching for a particular piece of information on the Internet, the amount of data that we get is confined to that particular topic, contrary to what happens in a library. In a library, we gather more information about varied topics, while searching for one particular topic. The amount of information available on the Internet is only a fraction of what is available in print. In this regard, the decline of the usage of public libraries and the inadequacy of the government in setting up more is nothing but disheartening.

Libraries contribute powerfully to literacy development and have the amazing potential of closing the gap between people from high and low income families in reading achievement. In a democratic nation like India, where people can give their own opinions, it is essential to gain sufficient knowledge enabling one to express their point of view. The government should take an initiative to set up more libraries or at the least, look into the smooth functioning of the existing ones. Library hours in school should also be reinforced and given more importance. Cutting funding from libraries is equivalent to cutting the lifeblood of the community. It would be more than exhilarating to see the government working to sustain the role of libraries or even enhancing them, in this age of computers.