What Happens When Your Library Is Finally Empty?

As Clay Shirky’s latest book makes clear, the internet’s reduction of publishing costs to effectively zero has critical implications for all the professions that are built upon the former reality of high publishing costs, librarianship and journalism among them. What will happen to libraries in the coming decades? Do libraries have staying power in the face of a total reversal of the economic reality they are predicated upon?

As the recent discussions on Slaw about changes at Lexis-Nexis Quicklaw and Canadian Law Book indicate, many expect primary legal resources in the digital age to be free of costs, perpetually available, and unrestricted in use. An important part of this question concerns the difference between owning electronic materials and merely licensing them from commercial providers. This question and others about the core functions of the academic library in the 21st century are addressed in a collection of essays recently commissioned by the US Council on Library and Information Resources.


  1. It is most interesting that these essays are born digital material. I wonder if I should print them for my library collection? My law firm library will never be empty since even if the collection were digitized and housed on some post-silicon ephemera there would still be a librarian (or several) in the room.

    My experiences in Shirky’s post 1993 Internet driven world lead me to believe that libraries – in whatever media they appear – require librarians…probably more librarians than a purely print world. The librarians may have slightly different skills, but we are a very adaptable group.

    Thanks for linking to these excellent essays Michael.