Salon had it right when it stated that libraries are more important than ever.
In our heartfelt but naïve fondness for “quiet, inviting spaces” full of books and nothing else, we fail to realize that libraries are becoming more important, not less, to our communities and our democracy.
One of the main reasons that libraries are more important than ever is because libraries and librarians help sift through the mountains of data that humans are currently producing.
Humans are producing such quantities of data—2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily, to be precise—and on such a steep curve, that 90 percent of all existing data is less than two years old. An overwhelming amount of information, access to which is marked by the same stark inequality that exists between economic classes, demands to be moderated for the public good, and libraries are the institutions that do that.
The risk of a small number of technically savvy, for-profit companies determining the bulk of what we read and how we read it is enormous. The great beauty of the rich, diverse library system that has developed over past century and a half has been the role of librarians in selecting and making available a range of material for people to consult and enjoy. No one pressing an ideology can co-opt this system; no single commercial entity can do an end run around the library system in the interest of profit.
Libraries and librarians help moderate this data in an age when we are really starting to question if there is too much collective knowledge. It's not that libraries are becoming less important as the need for print materials lowers; it's that the public needs to adjust its notion of what it means to be a library.