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Traditional Libraries in the Digital Age

Updated on January 10, 2017

Insight into the ever-changing world of libraries

Has the digital age helped or hindered the book-market and our traditional libraries?

The rise of the digital age came whirling into the 21st century like the Tazmanian Devil. In its wake, followed a falling-domino effect of once popular and thriving industries - books, bookstores, and the questionable need for traditional libraries. Giants such as Crown, B. Dalton, and Walden, who drew masses, crumbled at the feet of digital giants called eBooks and eReaders. Borders Books and Music introduced online sales and its eReader, Kobo, but could not successfully fend off Barnes and Noble, who also promoted its own eReader, Nook, as well as online retail. A 2016 Fortune article reported that Barnes and Noble’s Nook is currently struggling, but the store’s other retail sales rose 1.3% in its third fiscal quarter and continues to hold its own. However, in contrast to its regular retail, due to a failed website makeover, B&N’s online retail has plunged by 12.5%, causing B&N to become one of the rare chain stores to see its digital business fall. Only time will tell how B&N manages to remain competitive.

Online sales of new and used eBooks, print, and audio books by individual sellers remain a marketable force. They multiplied in numbers from sites like Amazon to sellers such as Thrifty,, Audbile, Apple iBooks, Google Books, eBay, and others. Another digital marketing force has been the rise of sites such as Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, that allow members to share book recommendations and reviews, and mingle with their favorite authors, add friends, and other options.

On the other side of the spectrum, lies the traditional library. Critics emerged as the popularity of eBooks, audio books, and downloading raised concerns about the future of traditional libraries; however, like lighthouses, they have weathered the storm. Traditional libraries proved the cynics wrong, and rose to the digital challenge. Not only have they sustained, they found a way to utilize digital resources in a way that would almost certainly guarantee success. They began to provide websites, giving patrons the ability to do book searches at home and to set up accounts allowing them to renew borrowing periods, pay fines, and request library cards online. Their websites have been successful avenues for encouraging community involvement by providing book, author, and reading events for adults and children as well as promoting educational and holiday events, and opening communication. Websites have become a valuable ally. Through them, libraries have effectively met the needs of their patrons by the simple click of a mouse.

Libraries strive to keep patrons aware of the resources available to them. A 2016 survey from Pew Research found that 76% of Americans believed their libraries met their learning and educational needs but were unaware of some of the online resources available. Its survey stated that 22% of adults were not aware they could borrow eBooks; 38% did not know about online career and job-related resources; 47% did not know they could utilize online GED classes; 47% were not aware of entrepreneur resources, and 49% were unaware of programs for learning new-skill certifications. With this in mind, libraries know their road is a long one, but they have the skills, technology, and motivation to traverse it.

Public libraries realized that by embracing digital technology, they could also distance a number of patrons who were unable to afford Internet services, or who did not have access to computers. They began to provide free computer stations so patrons could explore the Internet, download eBooks and music, movies, magazines, and learn languages, utilize genealogy sites, and even obtain homework help.


Does My Library Provide Digital Resources?

More than likely, yes. Simply enter your library's name into an Internet search to find their website.

The only prerequisite is a library card, computer, and online access. Go to the library’s site and look for text that may say “Electronic Library”, “e-services”, “e-library” or “Digital Library”, and be prepared to enter a library card number. Please keep in mind that libraries will always differ in presentation and availability. If necessary, contact the library for direct questions.

Ready, Set, Learn, And Explore...the possibilities...


What may I find within my library's digital resources?

ONLINE LEARNING: Tutoring resources designed to meet the needs of all ages, also advantageous to home-schoolers. As previously mentioned, your local library’s menu may list different services. Here, under the subject of “Online Learning” is with instruction in:

  • Microsoft Excel
  • Photography
  • Time Management
  • Video Editing
  • MS PowerPoint
  • Web Design and Development
  • Business Training, and Game Design


  • Grammar Refresher
  • Creating Mobile Apps with HTML 5
  • Creating WordPress websites
  • Stocks, Bonds and Investing
  • Introduction to MS Excel 2010
  • Advanced PC Security
  • Resume Writing workshop
  • Discover Digital Photography

Again, library menus will differ, but the outcome is the same…the opportunity to utilize valuable online learning tools at one's convenience. Read the title’s description for details, including any prerequisites that may be mandatory, and search for a Q&A section for specific inquiries.


¿Ha considerado el aprendizaje de un nuevo idioma? (Have you considered learning a new language?)

  • Mango

Without library access, this resource charges money, but your library card ensures your dollars are no good here. Mango, according to its website, is the most-loved cultural and language tool used among libraries and their patrons. There is a high probability most libraries offer this. Its fasinating, multi-packed program includes 72 languages and extensive Specialty Courses concentrating on specific subjects such as “Wine and Cheese” in French; “Text Talk” in Spanish; “Romance” in Spanish, French, and Italian.

Mango, a PhD created tool, comes highly recommended by linguistics. It also offers “hands free” interaction, progress tracking, and a great variety of other features worth considering.

  • Powerspeak

Powerspeak Languages, approved by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, offers an eclectic range of features such as scoring your progression, language lessons, exercises, and game interaction, and provides a “virtual coach” for instructional assistance, and guidance throughout your course. The mantra of this learning tool is to use “everyday” language to teach the country’s customs and culture.

Other benefits of Powerspeak:

  • · Matching to Pictures
  • · Listen, Record and Compare
  • · Spoken Practice
  • · Pictures
  • · Walk-through
  • · Listening
  • · Flash Cards
  • · Word Order


Test Preparation and Tutorials

Who would not appreciate the opportunity to prepare for upcoming tests? This module, packed with valuable resources for a wide range of ages, is a gem. Look for titles such as Learning Express Test Preparation for practice tests, tutorials, and eBooks in college entrance, civil service, and citizenship exams.

Other test preparations one may include:

  • Air Traffic Controllers
  • Cosmetology
  • Culinary Arts
  • Electrical, Emergency Medical Services
  • Postal Workers
  • Law Enforcement
  • Nursing
  • Real Estate.



Other possible resources include assistance for Veterans and Job Seekers, Homework Help, Cultural Resources, Career, and Citizenship/Immigration.

For those seeking leisurely options, set time aside for a fun afternoon browsing through magazines, listening to music, checking out theater and visual arts, or utilizing valuable resources for business and education. magazines and newspapers,

If you do not already have a library card, obtain one! It can open so many doors! Public libraries appreciate donations - strictly up to you - to help as they strive to provide updated, and valuable resources, both off and online.

Have you used your library's digital resources?

See results

Exploring Digital Libraries

What is a digital library? It is a diverse collection of material such as text, visual, video, and audio saved into digital form and made available to users via computer networks.

Digital curation has paved the way for libraries to archive, store, and display information. From print, it transitioned to microfilm, floppy disks, CD's, the Internet, and now, via digital formatting and scanning. It takes dedication, technique, and long hours of labor to transform printed and dimensional material into digital formats. Two groups of dedicated professionals, sometimes called “Information Managers” collaborate to make digital libraries possible: librarians, editors, publishers, retrievers and indexers, and professional or amateur creators such as authors and composers, photographers, mapmakers and graphic designers, and the other group consists of computer science experts teamed with Internet developers.

Digital Libraries have provided instant access to numerous resources, and their popularity is evident by the increasing number of digital libraries that have evolved. The majority of libraries remain traditional and offer both manual and online resources, however, on September 14, 2013, San Antonio,Texas opened the nation’s first completely-digital library, BiblioTech, with a collection of 35,000 books, access to works by self-published authors, access to pamphlets, movie and audio clips, and photographs. Its membership is open only to Bexar County residents.

One may or may not appreciate a completely-digital library, and in fact, the thought may bother many who cherish holding a real book, treasure childhood visits to their libraries, and value traditional ways. Perhaps it is difficult to comprehend a world without print books. Fortunately, libraries recognize the large demand for print as well as digital, and will hopefully continue to do so well into the future.

Texas: Home of the First Completely-digital Library

"The only thing you absolutely need to know is the location of the library." -

Albert Einstein

Digital Libraries

The realm of digital libraries extends beyond public libraries. Below, are scores of digital libraries provided by private, government, and legal institutions, museums, and organizations. They strive to reach communities and specific audiences for specific purposes.

In evolution, digital libraries provide an impressive array of resources, but will also continue to face certain challenges such as constant maintenance, including the need to enhance and upgrade systems as technology changes; ever-time consuming metadata elements,one of them, the naming of items. Naming is as important in the digital world as ISBN numbers are to a traditional library; keeping watch over copyright infringements, and preservation of digital materials.

Challenges aside, digital libraries link current generations to past generations, provide entertainment, learning and legal resources, and offer alternatives to traditional boundaries.

Does one like them, despise them, or feel indifferent? Digital libraries may please or offend, but there is no denying they are here to stay. Let us remember that by acknowledging the advantages digital may have over the traditional - or vise versa - both mediums are painstakingly maintained for one reason - the patron. As long as there remains the need and demand, both will serve a wonderful purpose.



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