Predicting the future can be a dangerous thing. When I was a child in the early nineteen-sixties, I used to watch a television show that predicted how we’d live in the far-off world of 2000.
By then, I was told, our homes would be heated by mini-nuclear power plants in the basement and we’d take our private helicopters to work. Nobody, however, saw the coming of the Internet.
Futurologists have gotten somewhat more cautious since then, but there is something most of them do agree on, which is that days are numbered for libraries as we have known them. Printed products have been moving rapidly to servers and Kindles. While most are still published on paper, this is widely seen as a temporary measure which will last only as long as it takes the old fuddy-duddies to die off.
And priorities are shifting. Last week, the Detroit Public Library announced the layoff of a fifth of their entire staff, or eighty-three employees, at the end of March. The far more affluent suburb of Troy has already voted to close its library. Other libraries across the state are threatened with huge cuts or extinction.
The economy is bad, but why do we feel that we can live without libraries? Here’s what one reader posted on the Detroit Free Press website, spelling several words wrong in the process: “Library’s are fast becoming a thing of the past due to rapid access and information that can be had via the Internet.”
Or, in other words, why would we possibly need a place where books are kept and stored when we’ve got Google? Those who defend libraries mainly do so on the grounds that everybody doesn‘t have a computer at home. The newspaper‘s story about the layoffs talked about all the poor people who come to the library to print resumes and scan the internet for job openings.