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Thoughts After Dark answers the questions you have in those final moments before you fall asleep when a simple Google search turns into an hour-long exploration of how things are made and how they work. Your random late night questions are answered here – even the ones you didn’t know you had.
When I was younger, I was thrilled when I finally got my own library card. I was inspired by the main character’s many treks in Matilda went to her local library to check out classics like Oliver Twist and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
I grew up in the late 90s, which means I had the experience of both viewing DVDs from my community library and renting them from Blockbuster and Netflix – back when they sent you discs in the mail that you almost always forget to return. But it was always more special to visit the library to see a new Mary-Kate and Ashley movie because I also got to pick out a new book.
While I wasn’t reading Jane Eyre in first grade, I was a fierce reader. I remember trying to teach my younger brother to read and failing because I did not understand how he did not understand how to read. But even he liked to go to the library, albeit for the little trains in the children’s corner.
Now that I’m an adult with my own car and time, I don’t go to the library much. I actually haven’t been there since 2020. I don’t have a library card either. Although I’m still an avid reader, I like to own my books and put them on my overcrowded bookshelf once I’m done reading. Most of my friends own Kindles for convenience and rave about their “seeability.”
I recently read a Bureau of Labor statistic that stated that library workers expect 9% job growth over the next 10 years. But if most people I know, myself included, rarely visit the library, where is this growth coming from? And will libraries still exist?
A library story that turns the page
Before the invention of search engines like Google or columns like Thoughts After Dark, the most popular place to find the answer to any question was the local library. And although libraries still exist around the world today, most people type a question into their phone before asking a librarian to point them in the right direction.
For many historians, the creation of libraries marks the beginning of recorded human history. This is especially true when civilizations began to develop paper and needed a place to store important scrolls and government documents.
The first systematically organized library dates back to the ancient Middle East and was built in Iraq by the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal. This library contained over 30,000 tablets organized by subject on a variety of scholarly ideas as well as literature. Because Ashurbanipal was extremely protective of his bookstore, he warned that thieves would “face the wrath of the gods”.
The main purpose of ancient libraries was to collect shareable knowledge that would help improve life. Advances in architecture, agriculture, and medicine have all benefited from these vast pools of knowledge. Of the many great ancient libraries, the Library of Alexandria in Egypt is considered the most extensive – with some 700,000 documents from around the world.
Libraries open to the public
While libraries were once reserved for the great, such as kings and emperors, this changed during the Renaissance when a new movement to transform society emerged. Many wished to return to the values of the Roman Empire and turned to the shared knowledge stored in libraries to do so. Other moments in history have also disrupted libraries, such as Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation and Emperor Joseph II’s Enlightenment program in Austria.
In the 1800s, libraries in the United States and Europe were finally open to the public, but many had to pay to enter. Today, libraries remain useful and popular because people enjoy the atmosphere and, surprisingly, not everything can be found on the internet. Librarians also continue to fulfill a very important function: to promote literacy and learning.
Will libraries survive the digital age?
As the popularity of the Internet began to rise, many saw it as the end of libraries. Isn’t the World Wide Web technically a library without walls or transportation? And although the Internet is a fierce competitor, throughout history libraries have continually adapted to the new needs of society as values have changed.
For example, libraries today have new designs that include computers, cafes, and even learning centers. Where libraries were once reserved for “powerful” people such as kings and emperors, they have become a common learning space for all.
Although our reading habits have changed, our desire for shared and safe community spaces to both find information and connect remains. Libraries are no longer just a place for books and other media, but “places where people can experience and create,” according to Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association in Chicago.
Libraries and accessibility
It is also important to note the link between libraries and accessibility, as not everyone has access to the information at their fingertips. More than 22% of American households do not have home internet. The majority of Americans without access are minorities and elderly.
Libraries offer Internet access, portable resources and expert help. It’s a free resource and space for many people without internet access to find the answer to a question, connect with family around the world, or even fill out a job application. on line.
For those who have internet access but do not feel comfortable visiting a library in person for health or other reasons, many libraries have created digital services to lend books and movies, and resources such as “Ask a librarian”.
Libraries have often filled gaps in needed services throughout history. In times of crisis, libraries have stepped up. Unemployed people sometimes turn to librarians for employment advice – 73% of libraries in the United States help customers with job applications – while in 2005 libraries allowed people affected by Hurricane Katrina to communicate with loved ones.
The future of libraries is artificial intelligence
Over the past few years, libraries have changed dramatically. As libraries have been forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to creating online resources has accelerated. But that shift was already underway: From 2014 to 2018, library spending on digital services increased by 31%, while spending on physical materials fell by 6%.
As the needs of society continue to evolve, so does the purpose of libraries. Not only do libraries provide digital services, but they also implement technology that improves the user experience and makes it easier to borrow materials. This includes a digital space that allows users to see what’s available at the library and request a copy if the library doesn’t already have it on hand.
Libraries, like many other industries, are also beginning to automate and use artificial intelligence (AI). Because automation can free librarians from tedious behind-the-scenes tasks like indexing, they have more time to interact with visitors. In libraries, AI is also being used to process documents faster and summarize content.
The right digital shift will literally keep libraries on the map instead of in the history books.
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