Context Book assignment

BiblioTech: Why libraries matter more than ever in the age of Google,

by John Palfrey

            Are libraries still relevant? Will they serve a purpose in the digital age? These seem to be the most axiomatic questions that those in the information business are confronted with today. In his book, Palfrey (2015) addresses the issues behind the question, and discloses why the answers are definitely “Yes!”, provided that libraries adapt to the ever-changing environment in which they find themselves. Clinging to a nostalgic perception of libraries is not enough to preserve their existence in a contemporary world. Information professionals must establish an unequivocal and positive case for the part that libraries will play in dynamic modern society.

Palfrey encourages librarians to be innovative and creative in transitioning libraries from being merely warehouses of information to places where knowledge is created and shared, without losing the connection between virtual and physical spaces. Library space needs to be maintained as places to collaborate, innovate, meet and work. Stephens (2011) states that the Library 2.0 model “encompasses both physical and virtual space”. The librarians that will most prosper in the system of participatory service are those who are adept at bridging the divide between the traditional library landscape and the ever-evolving technological landscape. They are forward-thinking trendspotters, networked to other information professionals with technical skills and digital know-how. Critical analysis skills and media production skills will be necessary to providing service in modern libraries.

Popular (but inaccurate) thought alleges that with global corporations such as Google and Amazon available around-the-clock, the library’s mission of providing access to information is being usurped. This brings up the question of whether or not for-profit companies can be trusted to provide free and unbiased information, and whether the safeguarding of complete and open access is something they are in a position to dispense. Libraries can address the things that Google and Amazon cannot provide: face-to-face interaction, collaboration, spaces and places for innovation, and expert assistance in determining accuracy and relevancy in a sea of random material put forth during a basic Google search.

According to Palfrey, libraries should “shape, rather than merely react to, the digital revolution”. He challenges librarians to be creative risk-takers, and to be well versed in new technologies and resources, and know how to apply them effectively. Today’s libraries, especially public libraries, serve a diverse array of customers, with diverse needs, and provide an expanding number of diverse services. The information ecosystem will continue to shift toward the digital. Within this ecosystem, preservation of materials, both digital and analog, is becoming more difficult, in part due to new and revolutionary formats, and the concept of “data rot”, where information is stored in formats that may become obsolete.

Palfrey concludes with ten steps to assuring the legitimacy of libraries present and future. These steps include redefining libraries for the digital era, becoming networked with other institutions, and creating a digital infrastructure to build on. He recommends acquiring feedback from library customers, collaborating and cooperating with similar educational organizations, and investing in library research and development to bolster innovation. These directives will ensure that libraries retain their esteemed place in the rapidly changing information terrain.


Palfrey, J. (2015). BiblioTech: Why libraries matter more than ever in the age of Google. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Stephens, M. (2011). The hyperlinked library.

John Palfrey at the “Google Era Librarians” Conference – Milan, 17/18 March 2016

One thought on “Context Book assignment”

  1. Hi Mollie,

    I’ve really enjoyed reading these context book reviews because it has allowed me to get a bite sized version of these important texts that I might take awhile to get around to! This is particularly the case for this book. I am going to move it up to the top of my to read list because it sounds like it has many important thoughts. A somewhat funny thought popped into my mind about your comment about libraries offering face-to-face over the big corporations. I can’t tell you how many calls we get at my library asking for help with some pretty outlandish questions or problems with computers tablets or cellphones that would never be addressed by a big box retailer, even the same one who sold them the device! Can you imagine bringing a tablet to Walmart and asking for help on downloading an eBook of the cashier? I must admit Apple is an exception here, their Genius Bar is very admirable in my eyes for trying to dish out a bit of information literacy. I am a PC girl but I can recognize this accomplishment :). I actually really enjoy this, though, because I understand how people are frustrated with how many robots they have to talk to just to get an answer from certain companies. Helping people with their devices and tech is one of my favorite newer services libraries have begun to offer for sure.

    I kind of got on a tangent here, but at any rate, this sounds like a book worth reading and it sounds like you gleaned a lot from it. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Molly J.

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