Yes, Google and its allies are trying to digitize every book in the world. Yes, many of today’s college students are more comfortable reading online than reading a book. But don’t expect libraries to disappear any time soon.
“Librarians have always acted as a sort of guide through the forest of knowledge and information,” says university librarian Lynn Skupeko. “We’re just continuing to do that in different formats.”
“You cannot get all the information you need on the internet,” says fellow librarian Mark Desrosiers. “There’s this perception that everything is available online, and that’s just not true. It’s probably not going to be true for a long time.”
Skupeko and Desrosiers, members of Local 3937, both are library assistants at Wilson Library. They help visitors navigate the vast amount of information in the library’s collection. It doesn’t matter whether that information is stored on paper, on microfilm, or electronically.
“Our most important role has always been to organize information,” Skupeko says. “We’re continuing to do that same thing. Now, that just happens more in the virtual world than in the physical world.”
The reference desk, where Skupeko works, is often the first stop for library visitors. They could be undergraduate students, grad students, or faculty. They could be visiting scholars, people from the community studying genealogy, or high school and junior high students researching History Day projects.
A portal to the digital world
Instead of helping patrons understand a card catalog, librarians these days are more likely to introduce them to the university library’s home page, which Skupeko calls a portal to the digital collection. The library has access to hundreds of full-text databases and online indexes, especially of journal articles and materials that are not available outside of university networks.
The challenge, Skupeka says, is that “interfacing with the digital world is like trying to drink from a firehouse. We help them navigate that world.”