Do We Still Need Brick and Mortar Libraries?

Written By: Mary Dudman, Soutron Global Training Services Manager, MLS


We know you’ve all seen articles about the demise of brick and mortar department stores. Is the same thing happening to libraries? Is the traditional library dead and gone? What is a “traditional library” anyway? Is there such a thing anymore?

Libraries have a long history, so let’s start early on…


Library of Alexandria

There is a lot of myth involved in the history of the Library at Alexandria. It has some romantic notions, as well as some substantiated and unsubstantiated lore surrounding it. The library at the end of the day was a repository of knowledge which encountered some unfortunate circumstances. Take a look in Wikipedia to learn more about the Library at Alexandria and make your own decisions! Was it a “brick and mortar” library? You bet it was!


Epos Book Boat

Have you ever heard of the Epos Book Boat? It’s a floating library in the fjords of Norway. It started in 1956 as a smaller “book boat” named Abdullah and transitioned to an 85 foot boat named Epos which can house 6000 books. Did you know that “epos” means “epic” in Norwegian? Epos, functions as a water-traveling library, serving rural communities which don’t have a “brick and mortar” library. Can we consider Epos a “brick and mortar” library? You bet it is! It just floats!



Have you ever heard of a bookmobile with 4 legs? There are at least two of these and one is called “Biblioburro”? PBS recently featured a courageous resident of La Gloria, Colombia, Luis Soriano. Luis gathers books together and, along with his two burros Alfa and Beto, journeys to rural areas of Colombia where books are a luxury few can afford or find. Is this a “brick and mortar” library? Well, if it is, it’s a 4 footed one!


Ships of the Desert

Another four-footed wonder is in Kenya… the Kenya Camel Library. This is sponsored by the Kenya National Library Service. If you want to see some images of these “ships of the desert” delivering the wonder of books to outlying areas of Kenya, take a look at what Rashid Farah, a librarian in the country, told BBC about these treks with books. Can this be considered a “brick and mortar” library? If nothing else, it’s another 4-footed one!


The Modern Library

So, what’s happening today with libraries? What’s the scoop on “digital libraries”? Does this mean that your local public library will soon be “wall-less”? There’s a lot of discussion these days about the pros and cons of making everything digital. Can the world survive a “library without walls”? Where will story hour be held for toddlers? Where will “game night” be held for teens? And most importantly, will there ever be a time when a librarian isn’t needed?

These are questions you can ponder as you go about your busy library life… Yes, Mr. Johnson, I’ll find that legal brief for you… Yes, Ms. Allen, I’ll locate that particular image for you… Yes, Mr. Glaser, I’ll photocopy that article from the journal and send it right to you.


The Future

Does it look to you like libraries will be completely “wall-less”? It’s been a long evolution from hieroglyphs in caves, stone tablets in libraries, scrolls in mountains, the Gutenberg printing press, huge publishing conglomerates, and finally, large companies controlling and selling you digital information. So think about the future. What do you see? If you look back, you may conclude that “brick and mortar” libraries (including boats and 4-footed travellers) aren’t going anywhere. There’s a time and place for everything.

As we all scrutinize our budgets considering how we’ll pay for those electronic accesses, those tomes of legal information, and that fluffy reading material, it behooves us to think about libraries and their value to mankind. Just because we happen to work in a fast and furious digital world does not mean our “brick and mortar” will come tumbling down.