How the Digital Age Has Both Helped and Hurt the Librarian Role

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How the Digital Age Has Both Helped and Hurt the Librarian Role

Many assumed that the digital age would spell the end for libraries, but they have thrived where bookstores and record stores have struggled. However, this brave new world hasn’t come without its challenges. Read on to discover how the digital age has helped and hurt librarians.

Easy Care for an Increasingly Digitized Library

In the past, librarians were entrusted to care for physical books, however; the modern library is becoming ever more digitized. Almost two-thirds of American libraries carried eBooks in 2011, and those numbers have surely grown by now. Demand for digital resources have made libraries update into an eWorld.

EBooks are much simpler to care for than physical ones. Libraries need not worry about stained or torn pages or lost books. Once eBooks are evaluated and the licenses are acquired, the hard work essentially ends for modern librarians.

Digital Publishers Make Life Difficult for Librarians

In theory, eBooks should make life much simpler for librarians, however, digital publishers are putting spanners in the works. Some publishers won’t offer digital content to libraries, and others only grant licenses under strict conditions.

Even if a license is granted, the publisher can withdraw the title whenever it wishes. While the traditional librarian had control over all the books in his or her archive, in the digital age this control remains with the publisher.

The friction between digital publishers and librarians has given many in the business real headaches. In November 2013, Southwest Public Libraries in Ohio even asked Congress to step in to ensure its members could access eBooks. Its measure sent a clear message: this turn of events is really hurting librarians.

Modern Librarians Must Learn New Skills Quickly

There’s an aging population of librarians. Only one in every ten is under the age of 30, and roughly half of them will reach retirement age between 2010 and 2020. That means most librarians didn’t grow up with computers in the home or have Internet access in their schools. New technology is unfamiliar to them, and they need to adapt fast to retain their positions.

Modern librarians are expected to have specialized knowledge of digital databases and be able to manage digital and physical library archives. They’re supposed to be so competent with new technology that they can teach patrons about using the Internet and digital library services. Keeping pace with ever-evolving new technology poses a real challenge, particularly to the older generation of librarians.

Librarians Don’t Need to Deal with So Many Patrons

The rise of the digital age has seen a decrease in people visiting physical libraries. That doesn’t mean that libraries are obsolete; they’re just going digital. For example, the American History Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society has about 50,000 visitors every year, 40 percent less than it did in 1987; however, every year the library also receives around 85,000 different online visitors. With fewer patrons to care for, modern librarians can offer more personalized attention to the smaller number of physical visitors.

The digital age might present challenges for librarians used to their traditional roles, but as the next generation of tech-savvy librarians take their places, the growth of libraries is guaranteed.