A funny thing happened on the way to its predicted obsolescence. The library became more popular than ever.
By Mark Lamster
“A lot of basic assumptions about what a library is and should be are on the table in a way that they haven’t been since the industrialization of printing,” says Jeffrey T. Schnapp, faculty director of metaLAB at Harvard and a professor of romance languages at the university’s Graduate School of Design. “There’s a shift of their core identity, away from places where documents are housed, to physical structures that can serve as nodes that add value to the act of consultation.”
To put things a bit more simply, the book—the object that, for so long, defined the library—is no longer its primary focus. Indeed, as content is increasingly digitized, one might ask whether the library is even a viable building type for the future. “My guess is that most libraries will cease to exist,” says David Bell, a professor at Princeton’s Department of History who writes on the subject. “People who love the physical book will see this as one of the great moments of barbarism in history.” Most susceptible are smaller libraries—in high schools, for example—that might easily be replaced by electronic workstations. Library space may be hard to justify when the content of a quarter of a million books fits onto a chip that you can slip into your pocket.
Read the full piece at Metropolis magazine.