Tuesday, June 2, 2009

250 Words: Evolution of Libraries

Evolution of Words?

Libraries do not evolve. To "evolve" means to change from one thing to another, something completely different, though related. Keeping the term "library" while changing the essence and function of the word makes for something other than a library. Don't call it a library if it's not.

Truth does not evolve. Nor does science or mathematics or history. Our preceptions of history, science, mathematics and truth may change but the thing itself does not, and can not.

What would happen if truth changed? Or if mathematics was not absolute? Suppose the laws of science were arbitrary, changed at the whim of an unknown, uncontrollable force? Nothing can change what has already happened. History is fixed. That which is true cannot suddenly become not true.

The meanings of words will change from the social and cultural stresses placed on them over time. But the thing described will not change even though the noun used, or the verb applied, does.

A Library is a Library. A bank of computers accessing the Intenet may be in the Library but do not make a Library. They are not mutually exclusive but work together collaberatively. Hopefully, they are not symbiotic, one not dependent upon the other. When the computers go down (or move so slowly they are almost useless) the Library does not cease to function. If anything, the ability to validate and verify information relies upon a well-developed Library which has not mutated into something unrecognizable.

Gerald F. Ward


  1. I'd like to propose another view of the meaning of "evolving". According to Webster, it means to gradually change to a different and (usually) better or more complex form. I see libraries changing to accommodate the newer forms of information storage used and requested by our public. We acquire electronic editions of books, downloadable audio and video, and provide communication channels unheard of just 10 years ago (online requests, bill payment, reference.) I see people using e-book readers on my bus in the morning, and I listen to downloadable audiobooks when I walk. I think people expect libraries to provide books and information in these formats now.

    The federal government is now publishing some documents in e-only formats - does that make their contents less valuable? Less usable? If newspapers cease publishing in print but keep a vibrant news web site complete with reader comments (letters to the editor), does that make the news any less newsworthy? No. It means librarians need to get on the ball once again and devise ways to classify and preserve information published in these new formats. We've done it before with paperbacks, with magazines, with cassette tapes, with vhs tapes, and we will do it again with electronic media.

  2. Forgot to add ... new media does not preclude keeping older formats. Part of a library's function is archiving; but that's another debate, which gets into the function of public vs academic and special libraries.

  3. I think we are saying the same thing. To evolve means to change, become different. The basic premise of Library does not change even though the collection will. I am not yet trying to assign value to a collection; just define what a Library is. -- GFW