Libraries in the past, present and future

Libraries have for millennia been the cultural institutions responsible for the preservation and enjoyment of the permanent collective memory, better known as writing, the documentary heritage of humanity. Since ancient times they represented the “databases” of our culture, allowing the classics of Greek, Latin and medieval literature to reach us. The important historical and cultural function of the library as an institution, in this instance that of a Cistercian abbey, was well described in Umberto Eco’s novel “Il Nome della Rosa”.

Even today, every year in Europe 1.2 million citizens benefit from the services offered by approximately 70,000 European libraries.  With the advent of digital technologies, however, these historic roles have been undermined.

Today, most of our libraries appear to be in difficulty with the needs of the public. The truth is that, on the one hand, technological progress has created a series of services that threaten the very function of the library and that, on the other hand, our library system was not (and is not) ready for the challenges that this swirling evolution presented.

Is it possible to imagine a world without libraries? Certainly not.

Libraries are a place where the enjoyment of “books” must continue to play a fundamental role. But at a time when people who read do so on poor quality material, it is also true that it is necessary to start new paths to stimulate reading. In an Italy that is concerned about fake news, we should look at the fact that functional illiteracy rates are growing exponentially. If libraries want to curb this phenomenon then they will have to put in place a path of renewal.

In other words, it is necessary that they learn the languages of the present, that they adapt to a world that is perhaps not the best of all possible worlds, but that certainly presents them with the opportunity to reinvent themselves and become a reference point for the entire community.

It seems therefore necessary to relaunch the service, which can take place thanks to new information technologies, in fact today it is essential to digitize documents so that users can search and consult them more easily and quickly.

The digitization to be done will cover various aspects: from the provisioning of documents (digital and non-digital) to the backoffice, from the development of a new metadata theory to the library translation of machine learning models for the management of big data in the sector, from the integration of digital in the physical library to the cooperation between libraries, from the optimization of purchasing processes to the creation of cooperative and automated development logic of collections.

The work to be done is so much and complex, if libraries still intend to exist and survive then they will have to innovate as soon as possible, otherwise their place will be taken by new experiences and phenomena already in place that will not let this possibility slip because man will never be able to quench his “hunger for knowledge”.

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