Library still has strong card

November 18, 2010

For some time now, there have been statements originating from organisations that do not manage major research libraries on the future of those that do ("Time to shelve the book habit", 4 November). We are rather irritated by being depicted as Luddites by those for whom the future is entirely defined by the digital, and as philistines by some of the most vocal academics in the humanities who see the world as unchanged.

Research libraries take a balanced view, based on the logistical challenges of maintaining access to large printed collections and the firm conviction that they are an important resource alongside the digital environment.

Libraries have never been the only source of information for people. Today, all libraries are adapting to the power of the web, embracing it rather than ignoring it.

Generally, the new has a habit of enhancing, rather than destroying, the old. Print did not fully obliterate the oral tradition. Radio did not demolish newspapers, and film did not kill the radio star. Television altered those forms, but did not wipe out any of them. Amazon now sells more e-books than printed ones, but more printed books than ever are being published every year. The printed book will remain a format of the future alongside digital editions for most people in many academic disciplines.

The future for the world's libraries is secure as long as we see ourselves as riding the crest of change, rather than being drowned by it.

Christopher Pressler, Director of University Libraries, University of London.

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