Over the past decade when considering the need for libraries, I have heard the phrase “it’s all on the web” more times than I can count. Sure, it is often directed at me and my fellow librarians in jest (and sometimes by my fellow librarians). However, let’s consider the legitimacy of the phrase. Many of our ready reference questions can be answered by a simple Google search. In fact, Google has anticipated your search and almost always fills in the relevant search terms before you type them. The first hit is often a link to Wikipedia which is filled with quick facts and additional links. I admittedly use this search tool first before going to a library or online database. The information is there. It’s quick and easy from a mobile device.
Just last weekend, I did a quick search on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as I watched Selma. I knew that his life ended too soon but I don’t think that I knew that he was only 39. He was a man so great and achieved so much but never reached the age that I am now. Again, I am reminded of perspective but I digress.
So, do we really need libraries? Is it really all on the web? Actually, organizations, libraries, companies, and individuals have been working tirelessly to digitize and publish works for the web and often provided in open access. In the last few months, I have spent my genius hour following the thread of open access publishing. The most important aspect of the genius hour that I have learned is how quickly it turns from one hour to two and so on. Pulling back the curtains, I was floored by the seemingly large and growing world of open access materials. To summarize my discoveries, I have listed a few major resources and additional points of interest so that you may investigate as well. One thing to note is that there are many ways to approach open access, from the publisher, the author, or the repository. The following examples focus on the latter.
American Memory – one of the first historical collections started by the Library of Congress in the early 1990s to be digitized. The library was able to gain funding to form the National Digital Library Program and by 2000 they had “exceeded its goal of making 5 million items available online by 2000.”
HathiTrust. Millions of books online. Really this tagline is deceiving because they offer more than books. This partnership of academic and research institutions officially founded in 2008 has grown to include a digital library of books and serials as well as a research center. It began simply with the desire (by the university partners) to create one database to search for the digital texts scanned by the Google Books project.
Project Gutenberg This database of public domain digital books was founded in 1971 making it the oldest repository. Supported by volunteers and donations, the collection’s size has grown to just under 50,000 ebooks. Many of the ebooks are downloadable to Kindles and other mobile devices. They are a partner to the Internet Archive.
Speaking of the Internet Archive, did you know that you could view your college’s webpage from the year that you were in college (if it was on the internet)? The Internet Archive not only provides open access to books and media but to webpages via the Wayback Machine. I was curious and had to view the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s library website for the year I graduated. I don’t even remember it looking this way but then again I didn’t surf the internet as much back then (with good old dial up). Again, I digress. The Internet Archive is a wonderful collector of new and old materials. In fact, our library’s podcast is hosted on this website. Have you listened to it yet? You really must. Jake and Joel have you in stitches.
One could easily spend hours and days in the open access repositories trying to answer the question, “is it all on the web?” The depth of their holdings surely suggests that this may be so. Better still, the question may be “is the information that I need on the internet?” What do you think? Can you always find what you are looking for on the internet? Does the need for information equal the need for libraries? If not, what is a library? Have you started tracking the library of the future?