Sunday, April 17, 2005

The role of libraries

In reading "Public Libraries and Networked Information Services in Low-Income Communities", I started to wonder about the common assumption that it is the role of libraries to provide public Internet access. The article mentions that traditionally the purpose of libraries has been to give people access to books, not introduce them to new technology. And libraries didn't really play a significant role in helping people to gain access to radio, telephones, and televisions.

Libraries have provided free Internet access for years and I wouldn't suggest changing now, but should this really be the responsibility of libraries? Why not have, say, post offices with public Internet terminals? Or maybe the local tourism board should be concerned with setting up public Internet access at tourist information centers. Or perhaps libraries really are the best institutions to address this issue after all...but I thought it would be interesting to question the assumption and think about whether any other public institutions should be called upon to help out too.


  1. good question. I feel like libraries wanted to be responsible because of the information side to the internet...but I don't know if that is true. I don't think libraries had computer stations before the world wide web--hmmm, maybe I should look into this.
    Either way, I think it would be great if computer labs started to pop up in the Department of Transportation, Dept. of Natural Resources, Dept. of Revenue etc. buildings.
    --Interesting to think about.

  2. I think that libraries always (er, from the 1980’s on) had computers as a research aid. I know the library that I worked at in high school had computers well before the internet was around, and people were always using the computer to type up school papers, use an electronic encyclopedia, etc. One of the most annoying options we had for the computers were children’s games! I just think libraries follow what the public wants to use. I think it was a natural step from basic computer access to the Internet. The library is a publicly funded entity, and that’s what the public wants. The idea that only books were available at libraries is a bit narrow in scope. Libraries have always offered information: books, newspapers, magazines, microfiche, and now electronic information on the Internet.

  3. I had been thinking the same thing and when I was reading the "Community Technology Centers..." article because one of the respondents had said that they use computers at school but she didn't know enough to use them. If public schools have managed to get computers and they are also publically funded couldn't they at least be the site of some computer training courses or be open for use to students and other?