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Roy TennantRoy Tennant
Author, Speaker and Senior Program Manager for OCLC Programs and Research
Read more from Roy on his TechEssence blog, his Library Journal blog and the OCLC Developers Blog.

Library Journal’s blog on digital libraries

OCLC Developers Blog
Libraries! “Our darkest hour” is at hand!  We can, however use a new Library 101 and find that “it is always the darkest before the dawn”.

Although it may sound like hyperbole, I truly believe that libraries have never met a more stark challenge than they have today. What we have offered society is being assailed from all sides – reference questions can often be answered by anyone with access to the Internet, social web sites provide ways to foster community, and books are now offered up by Amazon and Google. It would, in other words, appear to be our darkest hour. And it is. But as anyone will tell you, it is always the darkest before the dawn.

So what, exactly, is our dawn? What do we uniquely offer? It is community. It is creating and being a common place where anyone is welcome, where ideas are welcome, where diversity is welcome. It is capturing and preserving the incredible diversity of previously unpublished creativity. It is listening, and recording, and providing the means to play it back. It is giving those without a voice, or the means to acquire one, the wherewithal to have one. It is Free Speech. It is Democracy.

Libraries were for many years about access to information when information was not very accessible. To have access to information required money to buy any book or magazine or journal you wanted. Therefore, libraries existed to enable anyone to access resources that only a few could acquire. Now the tables have, to a large degree, turned.

Virtually anyone can access information, although certainly some significant islands remain. But what still seems beyond the reach of many is their ability to create and disseminate information. Their voices, which have for so long been kept silent through lack of resources and access to the means to make their voices heard, can now be heard through libraries that are poised to give them the tools to do so.

For many years public libraries have been about shared buying power and shared community space. A library would purchase materials on behalf of a community and provide meeting space for various community groups.

Likewise, academic libraries were about acquiring as many books and journals as their budgets would allow. But recently, academic libraries have begun rethinking their role. Many have created institutional repositories to capture research and scholarship before it is placed behind a pay wall. Some are even moving to become publishers themselves. This presages exactly where we must go.

Now we need to move into shared infrastructure. How can libraries enable their communities to seize the power to give expression to the many voices that exist? How can they create an environment of inclusion and empowerment that will enable the voices that have not been heard to find a forum and an expression? This, I believe, is the role that libraries can and should play, and a role that no other private or community organization can or should play. It’s us. Let’s do it.

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