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!

18 responses to “Science Fiction Today – Libraries

  1. Whilst I am all for e-books, and often read them myself, you can’t beat the feel of a paperback, or the smell, or the pleasure of being in a library and having access to all that knowledge. Who really knows what the future will look like. We can guess what’s ahead of us, certainly, but even where science fiction and reality collide, the simple fact is, we’re tactile creatures and technology can’t replace everything. Libraries will always have a place in my opinion, because a virtual environment is no substitute for the real thing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s true that the “environment” of libraries is becoming more a focus, with trends towards talking up meeting spaces, conference rooms, and things like that. They’re building a new public library in our town and it sounds like it will have a meeting room area that can be accessed separate from the library – meaning it can run later than library hours and that users aren’t constrained that way. We’re excited because we’re realizing this will make for a great board gaming location…

      Building the library collection of the future is complex, because as you say – e-books are super convenient, but we really do still like physical books. So the library needs to have both, and while they do, they might not have every title in both formats. Indeed, they really probably shouldn’t have everything in both formats because that would be crazy expensive. But trying to match which format is best for which item? Not the easiest.

      One area we’re pushing towards electronic is our reference collection. These are the sorts of works that are the reputable source opposition to Google or Wikipedia. Moving this collection towards digital – so it can be easily searched and access, and used in the same ways people are using Google or Wikipedia – that makes a lot of sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m surprised the giant “Archives” of Star Wars weren’t mentioned. 😉

    I think Libraries, thankfully, are in no danger. They seem to be adapting better that the industry that supplies them! I’ve read several promising articles in the last few weeks that point that way, at least.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So I have actually argued before that Star Wars is a Fantasy story ( ) so it fits in with the group of Fantasy stories… and with Holly’s discussion about lost knowledge and those with power suppressing knowledge. Right? The Empire totally closes the Archive down. My memory of Episodes 2 and 3 is super fuzzy.

      I agree that libraries are adapting better than booksellers/publishers/vendors are to the changing environment. I at least am not surprised by this, because I grew up in the 90’s and remember librarians as the champions of the spread of the Internet. It’s still a cultural thing in the US (and possibly elsewhere?) that you go to the library if you need Internet and don’t have it at home. This adaptation and championing of change and new (better) things is a big part of why I became a librarian!

      Still, that’s my beliefs. I hope that you and the articles you’ve read are right… we’re in the middle of a large programmatic administrative review right now, in super bad budget times. So my library at least really needs you to be right 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I agree. I think Star Wars is a fantasy…. but it’s also set in the future. I guess if we were going to be strict sci-fi, you’re right. The way of paper is gone. In fact, I really can’t think of someone I’d call the “intellectual” in any scifi I bring to mind. Hmmm….

        I’m sure your library will be okay, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!

        Liked by 1 person

        • That is an interesting point about science fiction intellectuals… Hmmm…

          And we play pretty fast and loose with our examples in these posts so Star Wars is good. Although it’s not the future but the past… Silly Lucas…

          It would be interesting to see what this all looks like in really recent science fiction or speculative literature. We didn’t have a strong sense of “the internet” as a thing until it was basically upon us. Nonetheless libraries in classic scifi… I feel like there’s a lot more of lost knowledge. Book burning in Fahrenheit 451. The Giver in… The Giver. Dystopias and restricted knowledge.

          The landscape of what we think the future might look like in terms of information has surely changed a lot in the last 20 or so years!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Someone should scan all those old arcane texts like the Necronomicon and get them online post haste. Doing research in libraries is so passé. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • So I read your comment yesterday and almost went in and edited this post to add the library from The Book of Eli. Such a major point in that story that almost all book knowledge has been lost! Such that someone having the full text of The Bible is a game changer. Great movie. It does kind of fit in with the idea of lost knowledge, and tapping into ancient knowledge – it just so happens that ancient knowledge is our knowledge of today!

      Also yes, I want a Google Scholar entry for the Necronomicon. Giles? Make it so!


  4. Oh hey, it’s National Library Week. Good time for this post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. NotAPunkRocker

    Just like the Twilight Zone…both book-themed episodes 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have to admit to not having seen much Twilight Zone… However it looks like it’s on Hulu so now I have some episodes to hunt down 🙂


      • NotAPunkRocker

        I think they both have Burgess Meredith in them too, surprisingly enough. The first, I think everyone knows (Time Enough at Last) about the banker trying to find time to read in peace. The other, I can’t remember the name now (A Man Condemned? Maybe?) is about a librarian who has been sentenced to death since books are no longer in society.

        Bummer, dude.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Science Fiction Today – News | Comparative Geeks

  7. I hope libraries continue to be hubs for the community, and branch into new areas. Our library holds lots of kid programs, like building Lego robots. As long as it has something to do with learning and community, it belongs in a library. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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