Public Libraries and the Internet: Roles, Perspectives, and Implications

Public Libraries and the Internet: Roles, Perspectives, and Implications

Public Libraries and the Internet: Roles, Perspectives, and Implications

Public Libraries and the Internet: Roles, Perspectives, and Implications


This book is a timely and detailed exploration of the impact and issues of the Internet in public libraries and their implications for society, policy, and professional practice.

The impact of the Internet and related technologies extends to library patrons, practitioners, administrators, and policymakers. It affects public library funding, community expectations, and social perceptions about the roles of public libraries. How have libraries adapted so far? What does the future hold?

Public Libraries and the Internet: Roles, Perspectives, and Implications explores the impact of the Internet and the expansion of the networked environment on U.S. public libraries through more than a dozen essays written by leading scholars and administrators. Notwithstanding the far-reaching changes wrought by the Internet, this is the first attempt to provide a comprehensive exploration of the subject over time and across areas of practice.

This wide-ranging volume, edited by the authors of several national studies tracking the use and involvement of public libraries with the Internet since 1994, offers both description and assessment. It discusses the ways in which the roles and services of public libraries have changed as a result of the Internet and offers a perspective on the meaning and impact of these changes. Perhaps most critically, it also suggests possible futures and opportunities as public libraries continue to evolve in this networked environment.


The integration of technology into public library services has been a continual process across the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, in which libraries have responded to new technologies, altering the ways that information could be recorded, accessed, and used. The Internet is a prominent recent example, but it is part of a larger continuity in public library history in the United States. In order to frame the explorations of the Internet and related technologies in public libraries today, this chapter briefly considers the historical relationships between public libraries and information technologies, how these relationships have shaped the maturation of public libraries, and the new roles in communities that have been created for libraries through increased provision of information technology.

Public libraries “are intricately intertwined with the greater social patterns of society as a whole and of the communities in which they are situated” (Burke & Martin, 2004, p. 422). As public libraries began to organize around professional associations and develop professional standards in the late 1800s, technology played an important role in shaping libraries and the profession of librarianship. Melvil Dewey in particular was keenly focused on the creation and novel employment of technology to improve library operations (Garrison, 1993; Wiegand, 1996). As new means of the electronic dissemination of information . . .

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