Is the internet making libraries obsolete?

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In the age of the Internet, CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup tries to determine if we still need libraries, and they did it from UW’s Stratford campus. Peter Mansbridge, a resident of Stratford, was a guest host of the program which aired live Sept. 28.
During the program, several undergrad and grad students from the Stratford campus commented on the subject and drew from their experiences studying digital media.


“This campus is particularly interesting because it doesn’t have a library,” Mansbridge said.


Guests on the show were Christine McWebb, director of academic programming at the Stratford campus, and Ken Roberts, an expert panelist for The Royal Society of Canada’s report, The Status and Future of Canada’s Library Archives.


“I would almost argue that the whole building is a library,”  Roberts said, referring to the Stratford campus’ wireless Internet giving students access to UW’s e-library.


Though both Roberts and McWebb discussed the value of digital archives, e-books, and online journals, they said physical libraries and books weren’t going anywhere.


Mansbridge asked McWebb directly if libraries are still essential to academics.


“Absolutely,” McWebb said.


“I think [libraries] are around for the foreseeable future,” Roberts said.


Recent grad of UW Stratford’s Masters of digital experience innovation Sara Mercier raised the point to Mansbridge that the distractions that exist on computers make using the Internet as a library not always effective.


“Having a place where you can collaborate and share knowledge is so essential,” Mercier said. “The energy that’s there [in the library], it’s a very scholarly energy.”


Though the Stratford campus does not have a physical library, as Mansbridge was quick to point out, McWebb said all students have access to the full resources of the UW library. Beginning this term students are able to have books shipped to them from the main campus.


UW history professor Ian Milligan raised a concern from the audience. He said electronic archives may not have long-term preservation capabilities. Books have been around for millennia and are able to survive over time, but digital archives have not been around long enough to stand the test of time. Mansbridge said some digital archives at <em>CBC</em> have become corrupted over time and lost.


&ldquo;We need to sort out how to properly archive,&rdquo; McWebb said. Roberts also said in the digital age, we do not yet have a seamless library system that could justify going entirely digital.


Other areas of argument were access to computeres not being universal and the fact that libraries are public institutions and many digital library resources are owned by companies like Google. There was significant concern amongst the speakers as to who ultimately owns digital archives and are they as accessible as physical libraries.


<em>Cross Country Checkup</em> is regularly hosted by Rex Murphy and airs every Sunday. A podcast for the Stratford campus show is available at cbc.ca/checkup.&nbsp;
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