September 16, 2009

Can Church Libraries Survive in a Digital World?

Stories about e-books and digital information dominate the news today. Every day we hear news of the latest products being developed and about titles newly digitized, along with tales of publisher woes and disputes about copyright issues.

The publishing industry gathered at the London Book Fair last spring to discuss the future of the book business. The Daily Telegraph (UK) article, E-books: Is the writing on the wall for books? describes this scene: “Among the vast stands carrying the latest paperbacks was a digital zone where academics and executives explored ways in which the book industry could embrace the electronic age.” They report “The Association of American Publishers has singled out e-book sales as the fastest growing segment in the industry, with sales of traditional books declining across all major markets . . .” Read Daily Telegraph article>>>

Libraries too, are watching and evolving with the trends. A recent CNN article, The Future of Libraries, With or Without Books begins “The stereotypical library is dying — and it's taking its shushing ladies, dank smell and endless shelves of books with it.” While this picture sounds grim, the article goes on to note new trends in the library world and spotlights several public libraries that are piloting innovative ways to gain an edge. Read CNN article>>>

Church libraries too, need to reevaluate their role in this changing information environment. In the Libraries Alive article Capturing the Church Library Market, Dolores Walker asks readers, “Is your library an echo of the past? Or an entry gate to the future?” and shares a helpful research survey with us. Read Libraries Alive article>>>

Taking Dolores’ line of questioning one step further, we church librarians can do some self-examination of our future library ministry goals. Ask yourself, “Where does my church library want to be in regards to its community and our changing technology? And perhaps more importantly, “How is it going to get there?”

Church libraries recognize the value of digital information. Many have made online catalogs and broader Internet access available onsite. That’s just a start. The next time you sit down to strategize about your library goals, begin exploring how and when e-books, digital databases, electronic forums and social networks might be integrated into your resource offerings.

Can your church library survive a future when the physical book may become less important? The answer is “Yes!” if you keep your ears, eyes and minds open to new possibilities for library ministry.