Public libraries in the digital age

There is not often much in these posts about public libraries, but there are frequently posts about digital libraries. I admit to thinking there’s not all that much overlap between the two. Public libraries are ready to change that.

Last November a group of public library leaders met to begin to address the future of public libraries as information is increasingly digital. There was much discussion about the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and the role of public libraries in that endeavor — as well as the possible impact of DPLA on public library usage and funding. It was agreed that this was not a time to sit back and see what happens. If public libraries don’t serve the content the users want in the forms they want to consume it, their future is grim.

A new report, America’s Digital Future: Advancing a shared strategy for digital public libraries, summarizes the themes from the meeting and lays out an action plan for moving forward.

There can be no true Digital Public Library of America without the participation of public libraries. Public libraries are eager to digitize their unique materials and make them locally available as well as contribute them to DPLA. Perhaps a more burning issue is to ensure that public libraries can provide current commercial publications, including e-books, to their users. They cannot rely on the marketplace to represent public interests; this will require a national, concerted voice to negotiate with publishers and to minimize the digital divide.

This part of the public library action plan is being further pursued in an IMLS-funded project to develop an e-book strategy that will ensure that Americans continue to have access to commercially produced content through their local public libraries, even as formats change.

While OCLC’s constituency includes all libraries, the OCLC Research Library Partnership focuses on research libraries. These issues, though, are fundamental to all libraries and library users and I am pleased to have been involved in the public library meeting and report and in the forthcoming work on e-book lending.

3 Comments on “Public libraries in the digital age”

  1. From where I sit – at the circ desk of a small rural public library – I am looking forward to reading any and all reports that shed light on the challenges facing our public libraries with regard to digitization, access, and funding. In my library, we struggle with major budget cuts that prevent us from providing e-books to our eager patrons. We offer wifi and everyday I help patrons as they download e-books from Amazon instead of the very library in which they sit. Thank you, Merrilee.

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