Q Debates: Is this the end of libraries as we know them?

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First aired on Q (30/5/12)

The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue is one of the most famous libraries in the world. Which makes the heated debate over the $300 million proposal to renovate the iconic branch no surprise. The plan include shipping materials to a storage facility in New Jersey. The new room will be used for a circulation library, more lounging and computer space and maybe even a café. These proposed changes are actually part of a growing trend among libraries across North America to revamp their identity, so that they are seen not simply as a source of books but also as community hubs.

More than a thousand people, including prominent writers Salman Rushdie and Mario Vargas Llosa, signed a petition objecting to these changes on the grounds that they will diminish the role of the library as an important research facility. John Reiner, an award-winning writer who penned the recent article "America's Public Library Crisis: Who's Reading the Books?" for the Daily Beast website, agrees with them. "The decision to move the assets off-site is short-sighted," he argued in a recent debate about the issue on Q. "If you've got content on your laptop or on your screen, why go to a library at all? If you have the same assets available to you anywhere, why go to a library at all?"

Taking the opposing view was Christopher Hume, columnist on urban issues and architecture for the Toronto Star. For Hume, a library that offers public events, educational series and even coffee is giving its community "more to do, rather than less to do." He believes libraries have a greater purpose than to offer resources and physical books. "It's about knowledge, it's about information, it's about education, it's about learning," he said. Hume contends that any move to encourage more people to engage with the library and have access to these resources is a good one.

What do you think? Are transformations, like the one the NYPL has proposed, helping or hurting libraries? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or on the comments below.

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