Kathryn Primrose

Higher Ed: Past & Future

Month: April 2016

Turning a New Page: The Future of Libraries

Libraries have essentially always held a very unique, if not sacred, role in the history and culture of the world itself. Whether this role has been manifested in its physical designation as a concrete place meant to store written knowledge and information or in its almost mythical position as gatekeeper of civilization’s progress and harvested growth, the institution of libraries and the written word has been one of the hallmarks of society for almost as long as society itself has existed. However, as the age grows ever more modern, one must contemplate whether or not physical libraries should continue to bear both titles of primary information keepers as well as historic figureheads of sorts, or if a shift might be underway that will alter the world of documented knowledge forever.

In 1731 the Library Company of Philadelphia was founded by a group of friends that included Benjamin Franklin, and is widely regarded as setting the precedent for the first truly public library in America. As at this point in history an education and proper access to knowledge and materials was still relatively scarce if one wasn’t from high class or wealth, the introduction of the concept that the common man could borrow books and references at his leisure to expand his own intellectual horizons was relatively groundbreaking. And as time went on, the library trend only exploded all the more. From “Pack Horse Librarians” to developing into a staple component of schools and colleges across the nation, it seemed that the mark of a library meant the mark of unparalleled intellectual establishment and growth. There was something hallowed about the concept of a building that merely within a series of walls could physically contain essentially the entire foundation of the growth of civilization and its knowledge, history, and future, and that it would be recorded forever in undeniable ink.

However, time continued to march on. And with it, the unstoppable force of innovation and evolution, effects which certainly did not ignore the institution of physical libraries. In the eyes of some, the technology tidal wave might as well as have spelled digital disaster for the classic library. With the same information previously preciously guarded within the vaults of spines and pages suddenly readily available at a simple click or google search, not only did concrete libraries seem to lose their usefulness, but also the information they held a bit of its reverence. Not only was information not as special or well-earned anymore, but it also lost a piece of credibility with the notion that essentially anyone could post something on the internet as fact without the same process of validation that a physical book might. With the speed and higher chance at instant gratification that internet sources offer, many wonder what place physical libraries should hope to have in modern society.

In the Declaration of Independence, a phrase is included that states that all people are entitled to the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It is my humble opinion that these rights indeed extend to every citizen regardless of walk of life, and that these rights include access to knowledge and information. Historically, this role of providing access was held almost exclusively by physical libraries, which in their time, were initially groundbreaking themselves in extending such rights. Presently, the overwhelming cultural shift towards technology and digital sharing of information has in a sense extended this right in its own way, providing the common man a less formal and faster avenue for accessing such knowledge. This all to say, it is certainly the argument of some that both avenues of intellect cannot continue, that one or the other must crawl out of the battle utterly victorious. However, I feel that a hybrid of sorts is the best solution to this quandary. Yes, technology is a great way to disperse information quickly, cheaply, and easily. However, the cultural and historic significance that the physical library possesses will never, and physically can never, be replicated with a simple “www…”. I believe that society jointly bearing the cost of perhaps smaller yet still substantial physical establishments of learning combined with collective innovation within the realm of electronic harvesting of knowledge is the best way to preserve society’s innovations while not inhibiting its future ones. While I will certainly retain an element of realism regarding the progression of information diffusion pertaining to electronic sources, sometimes classic just cannot be defined by a mere hashtag. And for that reason, I feel that collective instead of divisive innovation is truly the future of the American library system.

Innovative Disruption: A Point of No Return, or a Vicious Cycle?

Innovative Disruption. Although upon first reflection such a phrase could almost be perceived as an oxymoron, the momentum behind the growing presence of Innovative Disruption in modern culture, and more specifically higher education, is certainly a concrete force to be reckoned with across various spectrums. While innovation typically evokes a more positive connotation and disruption prompts more negative or hesitant feelings, the combination of the two blends together to form a stealthy yet powerful concept with the capacity to stake its claim virtually anywhere.

As opposed to simply change or improvement, Innovative Disruption stands unique in that the way it is perceived is dependent on the lens through which it is viewed and the way it is enacted. From the standpoint of consumers, there are often both pros and cons. From the perspective of say, existing merchants, such a shift might be encountered negatively. In the opinion of society as a whole, innovative disruption might be just the very thing needed. Nevertheless, the perceptions, motives, and driving factors behind Innovative Disruption are as equally complex and multifaceted as the effects that it produces.

One example of Innovative Disruption that I have encountered personally, in addition to observing in culture as a whole, is the Innovative Disruption of the rise of social media popularity. Before the social media explosion, the most popular forms of communication were IM, text messaging, voice calls, or yes even simply conversing in person. What you knew about the lives of other people was acquired by conversing with the person directly or at least with someone else who might be able to offer a bit of information of their own. But with the exponential popularity and growth of social networking hubs such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat, such direct communication seems no longer as necessary or as popular. Advantages of this shift include the fact that it has become far easier, quicker, and more fun to stay connected with friends and family merely with the tap of a button. It could even be viewed as a time saving mechanism, since oftentimes committing to a time for face to face or at least telephone interaction is not necessary with these new tools. However, there are also several distinct disadvantages. Increased ease in regards to social media usage has indeed increased user participation, only further increasing the number of people one can connect and keep up with online. Individuals can become so preoccupied with passively observing the life happenings of those in their digital circles that living fully in the present is far rarer. There is hardly an audience you will look at or an event that you will attend without spotting dozens of people passively scrolling through their twitter feed or examining someone’s latest profile picture. The ease and popularity of social media certainly enormously helps to minimize the issue of being able to stay in touch with people or stay up to date on local events, yet also significantly lessens the appreciation for the happenings in the physical present. While the social media takeover has indeed revolutionized communication in many innovative ways, proponents of face to face or otherwise more conventional methods of communication may feel substantially more disrupted.

Innovative Disruption is a complex concept, yet is undoubtedly one that is critical in propelling forward a visionary and progressive society. However, one must be weary of the possibility that the very Innovative Disruption that might be striving towards streamlining life might make is far less efficient in another area or in the long run.

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