Context Book Homework on BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google


There were many good books on the list to choose from. I feel fortunate that my final choice was interesting, well-written, timely and concentrated on both the choices of and the possibilities for libraries.


BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google (hereafter referred to as BiblioTech,) by John Palfrey is an illuminating look at the factors impacting libraries and by extension, librarians both historically, in the present and in terms of an optimal future.

Palfrey begins BiblioTech with the historical background of libraries overall in the first chapter.  He explains the importance of the Carnegie funds in making it possible to have structures, books and librarians and how the idea of free libraries on a grand scale was conceived of and carried out.

The author of Bibliotech was instrumental in the creation of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which collects archival information from smaller libraries around the country.  The DPLA is a not-for-profit organization.  When his book BiblioTech was written in 2015 the organization had, “[A] tiny staff [and] 7.5 million curated objects in its database.” (p.98-100) Collected materials include movies, sound clips, pictures and much more.  These materials are available online and are accessible to anyone who would like to use them.

Around the world there are other countries that are digitizing their collections.  Palfrey envisions the ability to access a global digital library in the future.  Within the scope of what can be accomplished with this kind of library is this example from the book: A student can access “notebooks that Sir Isaac Newton” used in 1661, then with click over to a “BBC radio production that puts the notebooks in context.” (p.117)

What is just as amazing as the idea of the DPLA is that their site is built on open-source code.  This code is free to all and has great potential for “…build[ing] innovative new applications.” (p. 103) Palfrey cites this as an example of a successful library platform.  An explanation he gives of library platforms is that they are similar to digital enterprises by private companies like Amazon and Google, but when the library world creates them they are free to use. (p.104)

The DPLA was built collaboratively with many libraries participating.  Palfrey states that working in collaboration is key for librarians in the future, both with each other and with companies from outside of librarianship.  One example from the book is an ongoing joint project between librarians and Wikipedia, with the goals of, “…improv[ing] the quality of Wikipedia articles and associated metadata.” (p.96)

The Digital Public Library of America is also notable because there were only a small number of people involved in its implementation. Beginning in 2010, 40 people solicited feedback about the prospective DPLA, with widely diverse input. (p.96) That the DPLA was up and running well in just a few years’  highlights the rapid rate of change in our world of technological advancements, and how accomplishments can be measured in years, rather than decades or centuries.

Below is a link to a short quiz (7 questions) featuring statistical data where you can test your knowledge about libraries in the United States.  All answers are anonymous.

A week after the due date for this assignment an entry will be posted on my blog with the correct answers.


One thought on “Context Book Homework on BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google”

  1. Hi Laurette,

    I read this book a few months ago and was impressed by many of the same things you were. I loved the idea of collaboration to provide digital access to as large a population as possible. I look forward to seeing the results of the survey!

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