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The Golden Age of Libraries

Consider yourself lucky. You live in what may be seen as the golden age of libraries. Modern libraries, including the Harold B. Lee Library, have large collections of printed materials spanning centuries of knowledge. They also have growing digital collections that give patrons quick access to rare materials. And finally, they provide patron access to the fee-based databases and scholarly journals that the academic world relies on.

Print and electronic–right now you can enjoy the best of both worlds. What will the future bring? Who can say. Digital information is fast and convenient, but it can disappear in an instant. Companies close, ownership of content can move between vendors, and fees can increase. Electronic access costs money because someone has to pay for the formatting of all the files and there is the matter of keeping all those storage disks spinning. Print costs money as well. Even if the shelves are paid for, the books on them must be kept in relatively climate controlled conditions. And of course colleges and universities have to think about how to spend their money.

There is one thing that we are sure of, the library will change. We can be sure because libraries have always changed–from collecting clay tablets to scrolls and from scrolls to codex books. Today we are watching a move from print to electronic. The key difference is when a library acquired a clay tablet and when a library acquired a book or printed journal the library owned that material. Today, when a library buys an electronic item, they are really only renting access to that material. That is a big change.