Daily Archives: April 14, 2015

Science Fiction Today – Libraries

LLast week we lined up Health Care and Immunization, and this week it’s Knowledge and Libraries. A couple of sets of things that go hand-in-hand as we look at the future. And while Holly and I might be outsiders looking in at the world of health care, there’s an inside-track when it comes to libraries: I am a librarian. So I have to try to make this post not about that…

What this post is about is the fact that libraries don’t always appear prominently in Science Fiction – though they feature prominently in Fantasy. Often there are other ways the information is kept or passed on in Science Fiction – the sorts of things Holly talked about yesterday with Knowledge. In  a world where all of human knowledge is at our fingertips… what does the future of libraries look like?

Libraries in Fantasy

“Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.”

-Walton, Jo (2011-01-18). Among Others (p. 59). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Hey look at all that great citation info that comes along when you copy from a Kindle book…

Often in Fantasy, and especially in Urban Fantasies or Horror Fantasies, set largely in our world only with fantastical elements, libraries are the one place that still actually has information on the ancient, forgotten past – the arcane, eldritch secrets that explain why all these crazy things are happening now.

Maybe the best example is Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, where the Scooby Gang is constantly meeting in library, getting guidance, training, and leadership from the librarian. Where the focal point of the plot, the Hellmouth, is literally sitting under the library. And where, anytime something new shows up, they go to research the new evil in the books in the library.

So libraries have ancient knowledge – but what about future knowledge?

Libraries vs. Technology

Today, it’s the Internet that seems to be making libraries “obsolete” – all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. In the future, if we’re having knowledge beamed into our brains, if we have virtual holodecks full of the past where we can explore… where do libraries fit?

One librarian answer is that, as we find ourselves with the whole world of information at our fingertips, it is getting harder and harder to find accurate, definitive, or just generally “good” information. The need for librarians – or good journalists, for that matter – seems to be growing, not shrinking.

And despite my Among Others quote above, libraries are more than books. In a future that might include holodecks, or knowledge we can beam straight into our brains, or any number of other advances – are we really going to keep all of these devices in our own home? Star Trek makes it look easy, because they’re on their quasi-military space ships where they have the holodeck. I doubt there’s one in every home on Earth. So where might people go? Well, maybe the library.

Even today, libraries are adapting to the technological needs of the communities around them. We were browsing the video game collection at our local library earlier today (online…), and many libraries are exploring the option of having technology like 3-D printers – something you might want occasionally but not own in your home. I see no reason that these trends can’t continue into the future!

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!