Now That We Have Digital Collections
Why Do We Need Libraries?

Christine L. Borgman
University of California Los Angeles




We briefly examine the question, "If we have the Internet and digital collections, why do we need libraries?." The challenge begs several fundamental questions, such as "What is a digital collection?," "What is a library?," "What is a librarian?," and "Why do we need digital collections or libraries?"
Digital collections are sets of information resources collected and organized on behalf of a community of users. Libraries are rapidly-evolving institutions that select, collect, organize, preserve, conserve, and provide access to information in many media, to many communities of users. Librarians are information professionals that support these activities, and they may work in units other than libraries and have job titles other than "librarian." The roles of information professionals are expanding as information institutions such as libraries, archives, museums, universities, and schools converge and partner with each other. The challenge for the digital age is to tailor information technologies to support the activities of individual communities of users, while creating a globally-distributed information infrastructure that enables systems and services to interoperate. Whether we need libraries and librarians is an open question that depends on the definition and scope of the institutions, functions, and professions involved.
We need a new generation of information professionals with a blend of expertise in human behavior and technology to understand the relationship between collections, communities, and content. The present and future communities of educators and professionals must be articulate about these relationships if we are to address the challenge that this seemingly-simple question represents.