Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Biblio Tech by John Palfrey


Libraries have been around for a while and will go extinct if they do not adapt to modern society.

That, in a nutshell, is the thesis of Biblio Tech. The author, John Palfrey, a law professor and library director discusses several factors that have changed  the way we procure information. Most notable, and no surprise to anyone reading I’m sure, is the internet.  The author comes down strong on the case that libraries can no longer be large storehouses for books and other information, waiting for people to come to them. Rather, libraries must take a more active role in becoming information synthesizers and distributors.

Within the ten chapters of the book, Palfrey expands on his vision that libraries must become interconnected through the internet and technology and thus become “hubs” of a giant information database. He describes ways in which some libraries are already doing this. He also discusses how libraries have failed in procuring a role in the “Digital Age”. Then, he lays out a plan for libraries to move forward. Each library contributes its specialized collection of information into a comprehensive whole that is available to anyone with access to technology (Something libraries can continue to offer as well!) The book makes the case for libraries continuing to be both a physical space for hard copy media while expanding their online presence and offerings. The book takes a strong stance against doing away with librarians or allowing the field to be flooded with professionals with backgrounds in areas other than information science. The giant “hub” of information would be a wonderful accomplishment. However, we’ll need trained professionals to help the rest of us navigate this world of information and find what we need. In our post-truth and “alternative facts” society, librarians play a very important role.

Throughout the book, Palfrey sprinkles in a defense of why libraries should continue to exist in the era of Google, Facebook, and numerous for-profit online databases. Libraries, in the purest form of the institution, are truly free, open to everyone, and exist without a double-motive. They are simply there to provide people with the information they want and need.

I’ve always been an on-again off-again user of libraries. However, after reading Biblio Tech, I’m going to make it a point to utilize more of the resources my local library has to offer.

The book ends with a potent passage on the importance of libraries:

“It is not too much of a stretch to say that the fate of well-informed, open, free republics could hinge on the future of libraries. Maureen Sullivan, then-president of the American Library Association and one of the great librarians who give me hope, told me: “The reason I think the future of libraries is so important is because I want to ensure that every child in AMerica has access to the information he or she needs to be well-informed before casting a vote.” Our public, institutions have every reason to work together on a common, bright, delightful, digital-era future. Libraries matter too much to democracies for us to fail at this task.”

–John Palfrey, Biblio Tech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google


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