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What Do People Think About the Future of Libraries?
The quantitative analysis of the articles concerning libraries in the European newspapers is essential to draw an overall picture of the libraries as it comes from the public opinion conveyed by the press. (For more on this, see What is the Future of Libraries?)
Nonetheless, only a qualitative investigation of the threads and stories emerging from the newspapers can report the direct voice of journalists, commentators and readers.
When going on a qualitative level, the main supra-national threads which can be traced in the newspapers are the following: the digital library, in particular the vicissitudes concerning Google Books and Europeana, the consequences of the economic crisis in terms of cuts to the libraries’ budgets, libraries’ privatisation and closures, and the role of libraries in the contemporary and future society.
Alongside the supra-national threads, each newspaper gives less or more space to issues of national interest which shed light over events and situations specifically referring to each country: for example, the Italian case of the BEIC (Biblioteca Europea di Informazione e Cultura = European Library for Information and Culture), whose project was definitively abandoned after more than 10 years from the first planning, and the Spanish case of the central library of the Sevilla University which was being built under the project of the famous architect Zaha Hadid and then demolished amid a tough debate.
Basically, the idea of libraries pictured by the newspapers is traditional and the stereotypes concerning the nature of libraries and the work of librarians are far from being overcome. Nonetheless, various and differentiated opinions emerges when going through the articles and many opportunities are offered by newspapers to transform libraries from musty, uninspiring places into unrestricted places to explore.
Browsing the newspapers you can run into readers’ opinions either like this: “Let’s wake up to today’s situation, close libraries and use the limited public funds for things that cannot be replaced by technology, such as care for elderly people,” or like this “Maintaining cultural spaces that help us grow as individuals is the only thing which will save us from this crisis.”
Up against the need for libraries to modernise themselves, there is someone sarcastically commenting: “I visited my local library this morning where I could have joined the knitting group, used a computer, made photocopies, bought jewellery and a greetings card, rented a DVD, video or CD. What I could not do was borrow any of the books on the Booker shortlist. I could, of course, order them for a small fee,” and others suggesting that “A library should be at the heart of popular culture and that includes conversation about any aspect of it. Apart from dedicated reading rooms, there is no more reason for a library to be quiet than a shop. May I suggest that librarians should put up signs saying: This is a library, not a Trappist monastery – feel free to talk.”
It is therefore clear that “librarians are [not] going to invent the future of libraries. It’s too big a job for any one group. It will take the world to invent the future of libraries.” This is why the librarians should keep their ears open to the communities’ voice and why it is worth reading Libraries and Public Perception: A Comparative Analysis of the European Press.
About the Author
Anna Galluzzi graduated from the University of Tuscia in Viterbo in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage, Specialization for Archivists and Librarians, in 1997. She then went on to receive a Degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Rome “La Sapienza, a Master (MSc) in Management of Library and Information Services at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, and a PhD in Library Science at the University of Udine. Since 2003, she has been working as Parliamentary Administrator and Librarian at the Senate Library in Rome. Prior to that, she was contract professor in Library and Information Science and Library Management at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, as well as teacher in professional classes and speaker at many national and international conferences. She has authored numerous articles, papers, and books.
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