The role of libraries in the digital age

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First aired on The Bridge (28/01/13)

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As the popularity of e-books continues to soar and the world's information is increasingly shared digitally, the question of what kind of roles libraries should play becomes more pressing.

A common assumption would be that more people are downloading materials from home, reading books on tablets, and spending less time in the book stacks. However, Chris Woodrow, acting CEO of the Windsor Public Library System, says the opposite is happening. People are using the library more, just in different ways.

"The circulation of regular materials, traditional materials, is pretty constant here, [but] in our case, for electronic resources, e-books, database access, those kinds of things, the figures are rising tremendously every year," Woodrow told The Bridge during a recent interview.
The library system's website received more than 400,000 hits last year, he said, and people logged on to access e-books and audiobooks. But the foot traffic hasn't slowed either.

Borrowing books has remained somewhat steady, but the libraries are being increasingly used as community spaces, where senior citizens can take computer literacy classes or attend meetings, and youths can participate in reading or study programs.

While he said he recognizes that some people still want a traditional public library experience -- a quiet place to read or to browse through archives -- it's important to "make ourselves relevant to the community."

"There's only so much tax money to go around... we need to make sure we use that money appropriately and efficiently and provide the services the community wants. We do all the traditional things, and we do need to remain relevant, and the community is saying to us, 'We want programming. We want services.'"

The library as a community hub vs. strictly research facility debate has emerged in the past years, with lots of mixed reaction over the New York Public Library's $300 million renovation plan, which will include a centre for teenagers, classroom spaces, and a café. Q hosted a panel debate about this last June, which you can listen to here.

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