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Five Reasons Why We Still Need Libraries In The Digital Age

The need for shared, community-centred spaces and access to accurate, verified information makes the Sharjah Public Library as relevant as it was 97 years ago

As technology continues to permeate every aspect of our life, leading to dramatic changes in the way we access and consume information - 24/7 on our fingertips, an oft-raised question concerns the relevance of libraries in today’s information age. Why do libraries still exist, and can they continue to advance humankind with knowledge and inspiration as in the past?

From the time of the earliest libraries in ancient Babylonia and Sumer, libraries have served as invaluable repositories of rare, unique and scholarly information. In the UAE, the concept of a library first took root in 1925 when Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the then ruler of Sharjah (1924 - 1951) opened a private library in Al Hisn—Sharjah Fort.

This private library, which has since evolved to become the Sharjah Public Library, is today nearly a century old and ready to embark on its second centennial. With six branches spread across the emirate to service the communities in every part of Sharjah, SPL stands as a testament to the enduring need of society members to explore knowledge, information, and culture through its vast and ever-expanding resources.

Apart from its nearly 97-year history, what makes the Sharjah Public Library one of the greatest community institutions in the emirate is its innovative approach to learning and community-building and its agility in adapting to meet the needs of tech-savvy digital audiences. Established at a time when information was scarce and access to information was even more limited, SPL continues to flourish in an era of disruptive technological change, and demonstrates that by being flexible, resilient and resourceful, libraries can continue to enhance learning and professional development and provide services that are beyond just the borrowing of books.

Although digital tools of learning are indispensable to modern living, libraries provide both tangible and intangible benefits to society and continue to stay relevant in contemporary society.

Helps you find exactly what you need: One of the pitfalls of search engines is the overload of information they provide. While useful and engaging content is found online, many of them are irrelevant, unverified, or misleading. Libraries, on the other hand, place value on facts and truth, and provide objective and accurate information. A librarian can also guide users to the exact content or information they need. 

Builds and connects communities: Libraries remain central to the community and people access its services for various reasons – not just to source information, read or borrow books. In the digital age, a public library can connect even the most remote community to networks of knowledge and information. As an inclusive space of shared learning and collaboration, SPL hosts story-telling sessions, book clubs, seminars, educational training, and more, at its premises each year to connect people and offer continuous learning opportunities. 

Free and open access to valuable resources: Libraries equip communities with knowledge by providing free and equitable access to invaluable multicultural and multilanguage resources, thus supporting education and literacy. During the period of lockdown in the first phase of Covid-19 in 2020, SPL opened access to its e-resources in more than 10 languages to people of all age groups around the world. These included 21,000 scientific studies, a library of 30,000 videos in all disciplines, 160,000 e-books, 5 million academic dissertations and thesis, in addition to a collection of manuscripts, rare books and audiobooks.

A safe, shared space: Libraries are welcoming and accessible spaces for everyone, irrespective of their social status, gender, age, nationality, or ethnicity. While online spaces also bring people together over shared interests, cyberbullying, trolling and geo-location targeting can make the internet a wary place, especially for children and youth. The social, physical, and virtual spaces offered at SPL’s libraries are fostering communities of readers and learners and caters to the needs of diverse groups including those with differing needs. A library is also perhaps the only public space that does not manipulate users for any commercial purpose.

Freedom to create and learn: Libraries promote the free and full exchange of ideas; they are open for independent thinking. By stimulating curiosity and imagination, libraries give individuals the freedom to nourish their minds with ideas and thoughts that are most precious to them. As SPL slowly transforms into an innovation hub, it will further broaden the horizons of creativity and learning.

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