In the 21st century there has been increasing use of the Internet to gather and retrieve data. The shift to digital libraries has greatly impacted the way people use physical libraries. Between 2002 and 2004, the average American academic library saw the overall number of transactions decline approximately 2.2%. Libraries are trying to keep up with the digital world and the new generation of students that are used to having information just one click away. For example, the University of California Library System saw a 54% decline in circulation between 1991 to 2001 of 8,377,000 books to 3,832,000.
These facts might be a consequence of the increased availability of e-resources. In 1999–2000, 105 ARL university libraries spent almost $100 million on electronic resources, which is an increase of nearly $23 million from the previous year. A 2003 report by the Open E-book Forum found that close to a million e-books had been sold in 2002, generating nearly $8 million in revenue. Another example of the shift to digital libraries can be seen in Cushing Academy’s decision to dispense with its library of printed books—more than 20,000 volumes in all—and switch over entirely to digital media resources.
One claim to why there is a decrease in the usage of libraries stems from the observation of the research habits of undergraduate students enrolled in colleges and universities. There have been claims that college undergraduates have become more used to retrieving information from the Internet than a traditional library. As each generation becomes more in tune with the Internet, their desire to retrieve information as quickly and easily as possible has increased. Finding information by simply searching the Internet could be much easier and faster than reading an entire book. In a survey conducted by Net Library, 93% of undergraduate students claimed that finding information online makes more sense to them than going to the library. Also, 75% of students surveyed claimed that they did not have enough time to go to the library and that they liked the convenience of the Internet. While the retrieving information from the Internet may be efficient and time saving than visiting a traditional library, research has shown that undergraduates are most likely searching only .03% of the entire web. The information that they are finding might be easy to retrieve and more readily available, but may not be as in depth as information from other resources such as the books available at a physical library.
In the mid-2000s Swedish company Distec invented a library book vending machine known as the GoLibrary, that offers library books to people where there is no branch, limited hours, or high traffic locations such as El Cerrito del Norte BART station in California.
British Museum Reading Room
A library may make use of the Internet in a number of ways. A library may make the contents of its catalogues searchable online. Some specialized search engines such as Google Scholar offer a way to facilitate searching for academic resources such as journal articles and research papers. The Online Computer Library Center allows library records to be searched online through its World Cat database. Websites such as Library Thing and Amazon provide abstracts, reviews and recommendations of books. Libraries provide computers and Internet access to allow people to search for information online. Online information access is particularly attractive to younger library users.
Digitization of books, particularly those that are out-of-print, in projects such as Google Books provides resources for library and other online users. Due to their holdings of valuable material, some libraries are important partners for search engines such as Google in realizing the potential of such projects and have received reciprocal benefits in cases where they have negotiated effectively. As the prominence of and reliance on the Internet has grown, library services have moved the emphasis from mainly providing print resources to providing more computers and more Internet access. Libraries face a number of challenges in adapting to new ways of information seeking that may stress convenience over quality, reducing the priority of information literacy skills. The potential decline in library usage, particularly reference services, puts the necessity for these services in doubt.
Library scholars have acknowledged that libraries need to address the ways that they market their services if they are to compete with the Internet and mitigate the risk of losing users. This includes promoting the information literacy skills training considered vital across the library profession. However, marketing of services has to be adequately supported financially in order to be successful. This can be problematic for library services that are publicly funded and find it difficult to justify diverting tight funds to apparently peripheral areas such as branding and marketing.
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