Life Sentence

Random thoughts about publishing, stamp collecting, politics, popular music of the 60s and 70s, mooses, and my motley other obsessions.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Libraries as repositories

There's an interesting issue raised in a press release called British Library predicts a switch to digital publishing is imminent.

Our aim at the British Library is to develop the infrastructure to store, manage, preserve and provide access to digital material in the same way as we do for the ‘physical’ national collection that we and our predecessors have stewarded for the last 250 years.

Our national libraries are no longer the repositories for everything that is copyrighted. As publishing becomes increasingly digital, the libraries become increasingly irrelevant. Do we actually need libraries to become "digital legal deposits"? I'd argue that existing systems for archiving web content already serve the purpose sufficiently.

In fact, do we need national libraries at all once their existing collections have been totally digitized? What possible purpose could they serve? Rather than becoming redundant digital legal repositories, I think that they should be engaging in the first steps of a planned, orderly shut-down. Rather than forcing new technology into old structures, we should be rethinking -- and in many cases discarding -- the old structures.

I'm not arguing against libraries. I think local libraries and school and university libraries serve essential educational functions. But I do think the era when we needed libraries to serve as repositories of record is very nearly over, and that we should be planning for their replacement.