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Jefferson’s Blog

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Thomas Jefferson writes on the issues of his day, and ours.

April 5, 2012

Are libraries doomed in the digital age?

“I have often thought that nothing would do more extensive good at small expense than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county, to consist of a few well-chosen books, to be lent to the people of the country under regulations as would secure their safe return in due time.”

–Thomas Jefferson to John Wyche, May 19, 1809


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  1. Some people like to romanticize the brick and mortar library, and I myself have spent many fond hours in them. But we all must admit that the role of libraries as a place to borrow books is changing. They may still hold a place in the life of the community- and I hope that they do- but the technology for storing and sharing the printed word makes the idea of traditional libraries sound rather backwards.

    • I hope you’re right that libraries will adapt with technology. In the future, if we can’t check out a printed book, it would be great to download books to our tablets and laptops and “return” them for the next reader to enjoy.

  2. I happen to work in a Library, Shatford Library at Pasadena City College in California. Libraries are alive and thriving. As long as we move with the times and keep in the forfront who we serve and what our customers needs are we’ll be fine. Our library has ebooks, 24/7 ask a research librarian, we even loan out laptops and iPads to be used within the library. Yes, even today there are students who cannot afford computers. I see our role as that of assistance with research, helping students with textbooks (which many cannot afford) and hardware such as laptops etc. Our “small” community college serves 25,000 to 30,000 in any one semester. Of those students 8,000 walked into our library on the first day. We LOVE our Students.

  3. This quote was placed here with a narrow definition of library in mind. Jefferson, being very open-minded and progressive, would view a public library as any institution to spread knowledge for free to the public. Such institutions are even more valuable in the digital age than in earlier times, when the number of written works was much smaller.