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Ad fontes! Books on shelves! Delivering free access to information in the public library of 2025

John van de Pas (Institute of Human Information Design and Strategy, Saxion University of Applied Science, Deventer, The Netherlands)

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 6 May 2014




The purpose of this paper is to provide a signpost to the librarian that might be helpful in making strategic assessments for the future of the public library, and helping in the process of decision-making about the course to be followed. Thereby critical remarks about the Internet-based “virtual library lobby” are summed up as arguments against following that path blindly, and alternatives to a technology-centred approach are put forward by focusing on the cultural uses of the library as a public place.


In this article a viewpoint is developed, based on an exploration of selected literature on the function of the library as an institution in society, and different viewpoints that are put forward in the debate on the future of libraries in the Internet era are analyzed. Some contend that going virtual is the only feasible course to take. Others emphasize that many functions of the library are unquantifiable because of their cultural nature, and rooted in physical interaction of citizens with a real space of bricks, mortar and books. These functions may never be fully virtualized, but are deemed essential to the community in which the library institution is rooted, and even society at large.


If librarians choose the technological path of the virtual library, they are rapidly being made obsolete by the multinational commercial information aggregators, where free access to information is no longer provided. If the library takes the cultural path, defining its future as an institution instrumental to “the commons” providing freedom to citizens, the actual use citizens make of library as public places should be taken as central starting point for a feasible future, and technology should be used as a means to that end.

Research limitations/implications

The article is a viewpoint, based on a limited selection of literature.

Practical implications

The viewpoint offers a critical assessment relevant to those librarians responsible for creating a roadmap for the future of their public library.

Social implications

This study underpins the importance of the public library as one of the last true public areas, open to all for the benefit of the community.


This study offers a different point of view, possibly even a warning call, against embracing technological determinism that brings with it enclosure of The Commons, which the Public Library in its true meaning should offer. Internet-based services are often put forward (and welcomed by many) as the solution for the future for free access to information. In the article, the case is made that unfettered free access for information to citizens is at odds with actual developments on the Internet, that according to leading Internet critics is rapidly being turned into a commercial advertising platform or market place.



van de Pas, J. (2014), "Ad fontes! Books on shelves! Delivering free access to information in the public library of 2025", New Library World, Vol. 115 No. 5/6, pp. 272-284.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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