The digital revolution is fundamentally reshaping how we absorb information, approach knowledge and live our lives. Libraries are no longer the primary gatekeepers to knowledge that they once were. Until recently, public libraries had little reason to innovate. Then Google arrived with a bang. And e-books have taken off in ways that no one would have anticipated a mere decade ago, making it easier to publish and distribute materials.
While libraries performed the standalone function of providing books through many centuries, their offerings have evolved in today’s times in tandem with the digital age and changing needs of the users. Libraries today not only promote reading, but also provide access to information and support communities. The New York Public Library, which is the largest and most reputed library in the world, is broadening its essential role to provide educational opportunities for New Yorkers. With $1 million in funding from Google and backing from New York City Mayor, the library is attempting to bridge the digital divide by offering free Wi-Fi devices to low-income families in the neighborhood. Libraries are increasingly known as the third place i.e. neither home nor work, but rather a community place. The libraries are replacing endless rows of book shelves with open floor spaces in the form of maker spaces, events and internet connectivity, designed for collaborative work.
In an era where a growing segment of digital information is commercially owned and controlled, libraries can play a critical role in democratizing access to knowledge and facilitating its impact on society. The digital library system can be opened up to technophobes by promoting the use of appropriate laptops and tablets suitable for reading. As libraries convert into meeting places, they can merchandise books more effectively through the ‘recommended reading’ tables located strategically at the entrance.
It is possible to build a small library at home, a home library on the cheap, by sourcing books from various places. The Amazon Marketplace is a retailer’s book service and a reader’s delight. Many titles are available for less than a dollar, and even with the shipping charges, a book would still cost under $5. Authors and scholars intent on downsizing their home libraries may be a good source of books, while friends and family members possessing large book collections could also constitute a good resource. Local thrift stores tend to have scores of books and it is indeed possible to stumble upon books for a fraction of the price prevailing at more established offline and online stores. As thrift store shelves are typically unorganized, one needs to have dollops of patience and time. But there is a thrill in the chase and it is worth the effort when one manages to unearth a gem. Building an online library is not far-fetched either, thanks to the available software options. For example, NAS for Plex models allow a person to build an e-library; Plex is the software solution that makes the library building a breeze and network-attached storage (NAS) solution works as a server.