January 24, 2022

The Globe and Mail: "Mike Shatzkin in Montreal: Libraries Don't Make Sense Anymore"

As is usually the case Mike Shatzkin, a well respected person in the publishing world and someone who you should know about and read, spoke in Montreal and during his speech did include some comments about libraries. ***Before sharing a few thoughts what was reported about the speech we realize that a good portion of what’s written goes well beyond what Mr. Shatzkin specifically says (or doesn’t say) in just 45 words.

First Thoughts:

1. While Shatzkin talks about libraries not making sense anymore he did say that librarian skills are still needed an will be in demand moving forward.

2. Here’s the quote in the one paragraph devoted to libraries/librarians in the article:

“Libraries make no sense in the future,” Shatzkin said on stage in a library that dates back to 1828. Anyone with Internet access already has access to far more books than were in that library, he pointed out. “There is no need for a building.”

I would like to know if Mike is talking about all libraries or a specific type of library? Since the quote says “no need for a building” it’s likely he’s talking about public and/or academic libraries.

This is another example about how talking about libraries as one all encompassing type of organization can lead to a misunderstanding. The public, school, academic, and special libraries do have many things in common but they also have needs unique to both the type of library and even the specific library.

3. Statistics show that public libraries are being used more than ever. Coincidentally, Canada (where Mike was speaking) is also home to the busiest urban library system in the world is the Toronto Public Library. TPL is also home to 99 branch libraries (aka buildings).

4. Many use the library for more than books. In recent years the library is a place to get technology education and use the Internet. It’s very important not to forget that everyone does not have access to a computer and the Internet at home.

5. What about the special collections, archives, and other materials that are found in library buildings? Sure, some of it’s being digitized but we’re nowhere close to digitizing all of it. The same goes for books.

6. Libraries of all types are home not only to research tools but interesting and important events for the community they serve. Yes, many of these events could be held elsewhere but what’s wrong with a library building? Think one-stop shop.

7. Assuming libraries would shutdown (as two public libraries in Michigan will do this summer) what happens to all of the books, serials, etc. I sure would hope material is not just tossed into a dumpster. It’s the easy way out but what about the future? We love digital resources around here but we also don’t no ons has all of the data/info to make sure that the digital data we’re creating today will be available for the long term.

We firmly disagree with Shatzkin about libraries (again, which types of libraries would be useful to know) but he is positive about librarian skills and as we’ve experienced a couple of times in recent weeks the topic is on the mind of people outside the profession and good discussion is useful.

***We’re happy that that Mr. Shatzkin brought the topic up. It’s something we’ve been thinking about for a long time (years) and we’re sure that many of  you spend some part of your week thinking and discussing the future of libraries, access to information, copyright, etc. We’re very good, no, excellent at discussing amongst ourselves. Since the topic was brought up by such an important person in an industry we deal with daily if not hourly, perhaps in a small way it can help create an increase in professional discussion between the library and publishing worlds. Needless to say there is a lot to talk about.

More Later.

Direct to the Full Text Article

*** Added 4/8/2011

Added 4/8/2011 See Also: “California: “Web Down at Two Libraries For Two Weeks: Staff Working Out Internet Security Wrinkle”

From the SJ Mercury News Article about the the web not being available at two libraries in Santa Cruz, CA.:

Margaret O’Shea, a Westside resident who doesn’t have Web access at home, said she has been puzzled for weeks about why sheplaints. a member of the Library Joint Powers Authority board that governs the city-county system, said he has received a few gripes.


[Emphasis Ours] “Having access to the Internet is critical for library patrons; some might otherwise not have access,” [City Councilman David Terrazas] said. “That is one of the reasons library funding must continue to make tech updates a priority.”

See Also: “‘Libraries make no sense in the future,’ says Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical Company, a well-known publishing consultant” (via Library City)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.