Why Libraries are becoming irrelevant to kids for Research

A couple of years ago while attending a conference, I heard a wonderful presentation by Clay Shirky entitled "Ontology is Overrated." Clay talked about how the categorization scheme (or ontology) that libraries use, is basically a 300 year old hack that allowed allowed libraries to warehouse large numbers of books, and find those books relatively quickly and easily. On the surface this sounds like a great system (and historically speaking it was), except that some books do not fit neatly into just one category. As well, some categories created years ago by librarians do not make much sense in our current day and age (Marxism and its several sub categories are a good example of this).

For kids in K-12, it makes no sense to go to a library for research for the following reasons:

  1. The number of resources on the Internet typically dwarfs what is available in the school or local public library.
  2. It is more convenient to do the research at the same place they are writing their paper – in front of a computer.

I can’t begin to tell you how big a factor #2 is. Not only is the Internet widely perceived as having more information (I won’t get into a discussion about reliability here), but it is undoubtedly more convenient. Kids arriving a university are going to have to be trained how to use libraries effectively. University libraries have a big advantage over K-12 libraries in that they have access to large numbers of paid databases and journals not available on the Internet (or at school and public libraries for that matter). They need to effectively communicate this fact to new undergraduates, and train them how to access that information in order to stay relevant.

I highly recommend listening to this presentation… It is engaging and thought provoking. Here is a link to a web page where you can play the audio directly from the web page. As well, here is a link to a down-loadable mp3 file. Enjoy!

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