If a Library Is Bookless, What's In It? The "Bookless Library." Is it a contradiction in terms, or a sign of the times? Information technology changes as soon we think we understand it. And libraries are struggling to keep up -- and redefine their role. A range of approaches are meant to help design a library for the 21st century.
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If a Library Is Bookless, What's In It?

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If a Library Is Bookless, What's In It?

If a Library Is Bookless, What's In It?

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(Soundbite of music)


From NPR News in Washington, DC, I'm Neal Conan, and this is TALK OF THE NATION.

With so much information available online, some believe that public libraries can no longer justify their existence. Carol Brey-Casiano, president of the American Library Association, disagrees.

Ms. CAROL BREY-CASIANO (President, American Library Association): We have long seen technology as a tool, but now, of course, that this amazing amount of information is going to be available, I think, you know, some people may say, well, does that mean that people won't visit the local library anymore, and I would have to say that's not been our experience as librarians.

CONAN: Call us with your ideas for a 21st century library, plus a graphic series of anti-meth ads in Montana, and Greg Bear joins us to remember science fiction writer Octavia Butler. It's the TALK OF THE NATION. First the news.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Public libraries arose around the technology of the printing press. These days, of course, you can walk in and check out a movie DVD or a music CD. You can go online to do research, attend a lecture, drop off a kid at story time, attend an English as a second language class or learn to paint water colors, but the main purpose of the library remains to provide access to rows upon rows of books.

As technology evolves, we won't need the need to go into library buildings to find the information we're looking for, and the eternal squeeze on county and municipal budgets prompts many to wonder if they will continue to pay for these institutions if they're perceived to have outlived their usefulness.

Others insist that the public library plays a vital role as a community center and as an intellectual oasis, a place to reflect as well as a place to learn. But if it's to survive, it has to adapt. So what would the library of the future look like?

Later, Montana unleashes a series of graphic radio and TV ads in a campaign against methamphetamine, and we'll remember science fiction writer Octavia Butler. But first we invite your ideas on the public library of the future. What would it do? How would it do it? What would it be for? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org.

And joining us now is Thomas Frey, executive director of the DaVinci Institute, which is a nonprofit futurist think-tank in Louisville, Colorado, and he joins us from the studios of member station KGNU in Boulder, Colorado. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION. Thomas Frey, are you there? And we're having difficulty with the line between here and KGNU in Boulder, Colorado.

We'll try to get to Thomas Frey in just a moment, but why don't we introduce another guest now. Jo Haight-Starling is a director of Access and Technology Services at Denver Public Library. She's joining us by phone from her office in Denver, Colorado. Nice to understand we can rely on the old technology of the telephone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. JO HAIGHT-SARLING (Access and Technology Services, Denver Public Library): That's right.

CONAN: None of these fancy new ISDN systems. Now the Denver Public Library is, I understand it, is it already experimenting with ways to stay ahead of that technological curve?

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: Oh, absolutely. We've been using technology for many years, obviously. We brought the Internet to our customers over 10 years ago when it was still a fairly new thing and began to use that to deliver resources at all locations and then resources from home. You mentioned, you know, coming in and searching our online databases.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: We've been using technology to deliver reference service. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, you can get on the Web and have a chat session with a real librarian and who will answer any question and direct you to the right Web resource for that. And more recently, we've been experimenting with delivering some more traditional library services such as books, downloadable books that people can get, audio books. We hope to have movies soon. We'll be experimenting with delivering story times over our Web as well.

CONAN: Hmm. A move or something like that would presumably have an expiration date so you couldn't send it to your friends or anything.

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: That's right. When you download a movie or a book, then you'll have access to it for the same length of time that you would the regular, physical version.

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: And then the digital rights management software that kind of keeps track of all this makes it disappear. So we like to think of it as these are things you can check out from the library that don't require us to shelve them and they're never late.

CONAN: And at the same time, somebody's eventually gonna come to the conclusion that you don't need a building.

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: Well, that may be true of some customers, that they don't need a building because they can get so much through what we've, many of us call the virtual library. It's...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: ...just like having another branch except it's not a building. But we also use our technology and our Web services to bring people into the library for services that they're probably not aware that we have. We have some wonderful cultural programming at our central library, we call it Fresh City life, and a series of programs that, everything from cooking demonstrations to movie series, author talks, just a wide variety of programs, and we can use technology to give people a little feel for that. so after the film series...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: ...we have a film critic who then discusses the film with the audience. So that's something that we're planning on podcasting out so people get a taste of that, and then they'll probably think that the next time they'd like to be there participating in that discussion.

CONAN: And at the same time, is there still continued demand for your, well, traditional services? People still going in to checkout books?

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: Oh, yes. In fact, a survey that we did of our e-books and e-audio book users showed that most of all of them use that service but they come into the library to get traditional, you know...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: ...physical books, to check out other materials, to come to programs, to bring their child to story time so they're using traditional services as well. We think of it as the library becomes available anywhere, anytime, anyplace you can get to the resources of the library. You don't have to remember to go and get a book on...


Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: ...paper, a book on CD. If you're on a trip, you can suddenly go, oh, yeah, let's get that book. I'll just download it and then we can listen to it in the car the next day. So we see people using all aspects and expecting us to be, to have resources that they can get anytime.

CONAN: Jo Haight-Star, Sarling, excuse me, Jo Haight-Sarling, thank you very much for being with us.

Ms. HAIGHT-SARLING: You're welcome.

CONAN: Jo Haight-Sarling is director for Access and Technology Services at Denver Public Library and joined us by phone from Denver in Colorado, and now let's see if we can get in touch with Tom Frey of the DaVinci Institute. Are you there, sir?

Mr. THOMAS FREY (Executive Director and Founder, DaVinci Institute): Yes, I'm, I've always been here, so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, you've been there, but our connection wasn't always there.

Mr. FREY: Right.

CONAN: In any case, does the Denver library seem to you to be taking a step in the right direction?

Mr. FREY: Yes. They're experimenting with new things. I think that's absolutely the right direction to go.

CONAN: Is the library, traditional library as we've grow up to know it, is that doomed?

Mr. FREY: Um, I, well, I think it's gonna be changing dramatically over the coming years. I don't think it's doomed. I, personally, I would hate to see libraries go away.


Mr. FREY: I think that they have to continually prove their relevance. The way we access information is gonna continue to change. Whether we get it on a cell phone, whether we get it through a telephone, whether we get it through books or some other electronic medium, it's gonna continue to change, and so we need to kind of, the libraries need to keep up with the technology and stay one step ahead of the curve.

CONAN: And you've speculated about different kinds of technologies, including whole new categories of things that could be catalogued, sounds, tastes, feels.

Mr. FREY: Yeah, when you start looking at the, well, let's just take the search technology today. Search technology is, most people think it's fairly simple because they can get on Google and they can find whatever they're looking for. But Google today is very text-based. You can use text to find other text. You can use text to find images. You can use text to find some video clips and things like that.

But there's all kinds of areas that are still available out there. Our understanding of information is very limited at this point, so in the future we're going to be able to use, to do searches on smells, do searches on tastes: I want something that tastes like this margarita that I just had. Or this French bread that I just ate. I want something that smells like Chenille Number 42 that I just tested out. But it's more than that. I want something that has this level of reflectivity. I want something that has this texture, I want to know what areas of the world has this barometric pressure.

So search-based information is going to get much more complicated; the technology we used to search with is going to get more complicated and I think people will actually be getting college degrees in search.

CONAN: We're talking about the libraries of the future. What would they be about, what would they be for, how would they do it? 800-989-8255, e-mail is

Let's begin with Jerry and Jerry's calling from nearby Boulder, Colorado.

JERRY (Caller): Yeah, hi there, my question is about searching and searching contents in the library...

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

JERRY: ...without getting any commercial or, you know, reseller type information. I really want it restricted to being just information from, you know, from libraries. Is there a way to do that?

CONAN: Tom Frey.

MR. FREY: Yes the technology is there to limit it, but my guess is that libraries make some of their revenue through the reselling of other information and so they include that.

But a lot of people are interested in knowing the full universe of information that's available. So I would think that you would be able to restrict it just to what's in the library, probably just click a couple of the right boxes you should be able to find that on your card catalogue there.

CONAN: And we seem to be at the, at least the dawn, of the ability to begin to search books.

JERRY: Yeah, and that's really where, what I was talking about is to get information from, you know, universities and books it seems to me that what we get now is a lot of retail information.

Mr. FREY: There's a company that just came out with a new device. It's a book scanner device. And these devices have been around for awhile, but this one is a low-priced one that I think will start changing the world.

What's you do is you put a book in this device and it will automatically turn all the pages and scan all the information in. so we have millions and millions of books from the past that could easily be scanned into some digital format right now. So they'll be much easier to access.

CONAN: And once they're digitized, of course, then they're searchable.

MR. FREY: Yes.

CONAN: Jerry, thanks very much for the call.

JERRY: Thank you.

CONAN: All right we're going to have to take a short break. When we come back we're going to continue our conversations on the library of the future. What's their role in the modern information society: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK our e- mail address is talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan, you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about libraries today and how they must adapt to the rapid changes of technology, if they're to survive in the future.

You're invited, of course, to join the conversation. What's your idea of a modern library: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK, e-mail is talk@npr.org.

Let's talk with Steven. Steven's with us from Lincoln Town in North Carolina.

STEVEN (Caller): Yes, thank you, Neal, for taking the call.

CONAN: Sure.

STEVEN: To the last caller's point, I'd like to bring my second item up first. The digitalization of the, for the virtual library to me, we're not at that point, maybe we are at the new dawn of the age.

But my experience has been, as a longtime Internet user that the availability of good quality, high-quality digital images is poor. Those of us who don't have high speed access, the big bandwidth to the virtual libraries are going to experience a very limited ability to view information, to download this information or by that be able to browse it on our computers.

So I'm hoping that the library of the next century or the future will allow us to have a local pipeline where we can go and obtain the data that we will not be able to obtain through our own connection.

CONAN: Well, Tom Frey, perhaps the limitations on bans with those sorts of things. These are if you're looking a century ahead temporary inconveniences.

MR. FREY: Exactly.

STEVEN: Perhaps but...

CONAN: Steven.

STEVEN: ...living in the world...

CONAN: Steven.

STEVEN: ...today and trying...

CONAN: Excuse me, Steven. Steven, excuse me, let's get an answer from Tom Frey.

MR. FREY: Yeah, some of the new technologies coming out, the Ymax, which is wireless technology that has 30 miles in each direction footprint, covers a 1,000 square miles, we're going to start seeing some of those stations being put in towards the end of this year, beginning of next year. That will radically start changing things and create essentially a much bigger pipe for people to download things.

So being able to access the images that you're talking about should be much easier and quicker. I don't think it's the library's role to become and ISP, as an example.

CONAN: Steven, I'm sorry to interrupt but did you want to say, have another point.

STEVEN: Yeah that the no I don't expect them to replace any of the Internet service providers. But hopefully, they would be the conduit through which users like myself would not have access in a rural area to a wireless network.

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

STEVEN: We're certainly very inadequate now in our own DSL capabilities.

CONAN: Okay.

STEVEN: So I don't see that we'll have that wireless capability anytime in the near future and probably not well beyond that time.

CONAN: Here's a related point we're getting from e-mail, Charles in Salt Lake City, Utah writes: I volunteer at a library once a month and find that many who visit the library are those unable to afford a computer an Internet service. Thus, I'd argue that until local governments are allowed to deploy ubiquitous Internet service by telephone cable ISPs, local libraries will be the only way that local governments can ensure all their citizens have some form of free Internet service, and thus help limit the divergence of haves and have-nots.

STEVEN: Exactly, and again my original call was to be about the lack of quality of digitized images. If you've gone on to any of the virtual museums or any of the graphical sites, you'll find that the ability to view that information is going to be limited, even in e-book format, which I do use.

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

STEVEN: It's all text-based.

CONAN: Yeah.

STEVEN: And I...

CONAN: Again Tom Frey would you expect that technology will provide a solution to this problem?

MR. FREY: Absolutely, I mean we're moving towards an era where people have wider and wider pipes going into their homes. And I agree that the rural areas are lagging behind some of the metropolitan areas and being able to pick up some of the band with issues and correct them.

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

MR. FREY: But I see in a lot of rural areas there way ahead of the metro areas to. I mean it's easier to connect a small town than it is to connect a large city. So that's not universally true.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Christie in Wichita, Kansas: A going concern for a library of the 21st century would have to be more than a place with books you can check out for a small fee, a café, a children's museum inside, a storyteller for kids who are potty trained and another storyteller for children and mom if their not potty trained.

They should develop a reputation of having great lecturers on topics of interest. They should also take the lead on making information available on the Internet for a fee.

Active senior citizens could play bridge games there. I haven't stepped into a library in years, but I would frequent it if they became more of a community center.

MR. FREY: I think a lot of libraries are becoming community centers. I think if she stepped into some of the new libraries, she would be amazed at the transition they've been making.

Libraries are changing in all kinds of different ways, but I expect that over the next few decades we're going to be transition from a center of information that we've commonly expected from libraries into more of a center of culture. And information will be part of all that, kind of the bigger equation.

CONAN: Mm hmmm. Let's talk now with Cheryl, Cheryl's with us in Erie, Kansas.

CHERYL (Caller): Hi, Neal, thanks for having me.

CONAN: Sure.

CHERYL: Um, I wanted to, the e-mail from Wichita kind of tells, that's what I was going to say. Every time I go into a library it's just, the community, you know. It is the whole communal effort and that idea that you can, information just doesn't go into my mind it also comes out.

And sharing it with people who have more knowledge or, you know, talking to the librarians or meeting people in the library. You know, you might be in the same set of books that their in. Or I'm thinking of the future hard cast community groups, like the e-mailer was saying.

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

CHERYL: But ways to use the library that you can't use at home, you know. And I know that the first caller was talking about, you know, rural and I'm in a 2000 people town and I know that's a problem; but you know what I've got every advantage at home and big screens and the whole bit, it's just not the same.

It's not the same as going in to that library and experiencing all of the availability of research and the talking to other people and sharing my ideas also. It's kind of like NPR.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well we'll leave NPR out of the conversation just for a moment. But Tom Frey again it's the idea of this communal experience that people seem to be talking about. But as a library moves away from being an information center, what is it anymore? How do you define it?

And do you define it as the line going down to KGNU again in Boulder, Colorado. Cheryl, we'll try to get an answer to your question as soon as we can reestablish contact with Tom Frey.


CONAN: In the meantime let's see if we can get another guest on the line. Libraries at their best won't just provide access to the newest information or technologies, as we've been talking about, they're becoming community hubs. Charles Brown is director of the public library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, he's with us now by phone from his office in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Nice to have you on the program as well.

Mr. CHARLES BROWN, (Director, Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, N.C.): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And one of the things that your library system has done is open an enormous facility for youth, a facility for which you share with a local theater group.

MR. BROWN: That's correct. Libraries in addition to everything else that's been stated today have also branched out I think more aggressively in the area of partnerships and collaborations.

And the facility, the ImaginOn, that Joe and Joan Martin Center are in downtown Charlotte, it's a library facility but it's a programmatic partnership with the Children's Theater of Charlotte.

CONAN: And, but...

MR. BROWN: It's a 102,000-square foot facility and it serves not only as our major youth library with about 30,000-square feet devoted to that activity. But with its two stages it also serves as a home to the Children's Theater of Charlotte.

CONAN: And they're not just, uh, sitting next to each other, this is an integrated presentation.

MR. BROWN: Very much an integrated presentation. And, you know, the library of place, which I think has been mentioned here was epitomized when I was there on Saturday. We have a teen, you know an area known as Teen Central on the upper level of the library. That's a very cool hangout for teens in the Charlotte and Mecklenburg area.

And a part of that is Studio I, where kids can go in and do their own video taping, claymation. There's a blue/green screen there. And we've now added costumes in the Children's Theater so, you know, the kids were working on productions now have access to costumes as well.

And the Children's Theater is doing a Shakespearean production at the present time and so there are costumes from that era along with various stages forwards that the kids can use as part of their, you know, the productions that they create.

CONAN: And for younger kids instead of story time, per se there's something you call the Story Jar, what's that?

MR. BROWN: The Story Jar is a wonderful, it's an interactive system that was developed by Ed Fosberg(ph) Incorporated of New York. The kids, either working individual or in groups, can create their own stories while they are, because the whole theme of this facility is to bringing stories to life, both through the written word as well as through performances.

They create stories either through prompts or if they're working as a group, they can create their own scenery, their own costumes and their own music. And then once the story is created they can swipe a, you know they're using their library card, they can actually transmit this story to a huge story jar.

That's one of the centerpieces of the facilities where there are thousands of marbles and it--it's very similar to, you know, Tinkerbell because they light up every time a story is deposited--and the story is there indefinitely, to be retrieved electronically, either from home or if you want to send a story to grandma out in Omaha, Nebraska, you can do that. And she can retrieve it electronically, you know, through her Internet access.

NEAL CONAN, host: And...

Mr. BROWN It's a wonderful and very exciting feature.

CONAN: And it all sounds great, but what happens to the fellow who comes in and blinks and just wants to borrow a copy of Huckleberry Finn?

Mr. BROWN: And there are thousands of tens of thousands of copies of traditional books there at the library. Print is very much an integral part of ImaginOn, but it's not the only activity there. And it's so exciting to walk in, Neal, and you see kids from, you know, from 18 months through, you know, age 16 just walk in and just say wow. This facility does have that wow factor which is very important today.

CONAN: Without that...

BROWN: To youth of all ages.

CONAN: Without that wow factor, kids won't get into the habit of knowing that the library is even there.

Mr. BROWN: That's correct.

CONAN: Yes. As you look ahead to all of this, there's a question that a lot of places are going to ask, how are you paying for it?

Mr. BROWN: We're very fortunate to, you know, have tremendous community support here Charlotte-Mecklenburg and this facility was made possible through a bond issue that was passed by the citizenry of Mecklenburg County. They really view, and, you know, you hear a lot said about, you know, youth being our future. But the community here in 1999 really felt that they wanted to make this financial commitment to the youth of this community. And in the first three months of operation we had over 100,000 visits to the facility, so I think it was an investment, you know, that was well made.

CONAN: And this has just opened?

BROWN It opened in early October of last year.

CONAN: And how's it going?

Mr. BROWN: It's going very well. As I mentioned, between October and the end of 2005, we had over 100,000 visits to both the library and the children's theater and I was there on Saturday afternoon, it was just wonderful. It's a real family experience. And so you see lots of families, you know, now making ImaginOn, the Joan and Joe Martin Center, a family destination. And I think that's just heartwarming to see and it's a very productive, not only for the fun activities for families, but it's also very productive one as well.

CONAN: Charles Brown thank you very much for being with us today.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you.

CONAN: Continued good luck to you.

Mr. BROWN: Thank you.

CONAN: Charles Brown, Director of the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County and he joined us from his office in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Well, we've raised the technological white flag and Tom Frey is back with us, but on the telephone. Tom, are you there?

Mr. FREY: Yes I am.

CONAN: You're still there, of course, you haven't moved. Nevertheless, I did want to get back to that question though I was, I don't know if you had a chance to hear it just before you went away. But as we talk about the library as we all know what the library is now and it's got a very clearly defined function and role. As it changes is that definition going to slip away from us?

FREY: I'm not sure if slipping away is the right term, but certainly it's going to change. Well, let's go back in time. I mean, libraries when they first started, I mean, information was very precious. They used to take books and actually chain them to lecterns and so libraries in the Middle Ages were just no more than a series of lecterns with books chained to them, very odd in what we think of as a library today.

So, information doesn't have to come in book form. You know, when I first listened to my first audio book; I was listening to it and I thought, this is cheating. You know, I thought getting, this is too easy. Rather than having to sit there and actually physically read a book as listening to it and then I started thinking, you know, the idea of converting these images on paper into mental concepts and images or whether you do it with an audio book and you convert sounds into mental concepts and images; however you get that information into our head, that's the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to, I mean, we're working towards creating that invisible, seamless interface between information and our brain. We want to make that as seamless as possible.

CONAN: We're talking about the libraries of the future.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another called on the line. This is John. John's with us in Summit County, Colorado.

JOHN (Caller): Hi, how's it going?

CONAN: It's all right.

JOHN: I'm actually a library trustee up in Summit County. We set the policy on the libraries. And we're a small resort town. We offer most of the technology that any large town will offer, but all of our customers, they define our library by the librarians. Especially with all of the technology, they find there is so much information out there they'd be just overwhelmed by it without properly trained and helpful librarians.

Mr. FREY: Yes, I think the resources that a good librarian can provide is extremely valuable, not only pointing to the information, but also how to use the technology to find the information. That's an area that, up to this point, doesn't seem like there's any businesses that wanted to pick this up, but people are confounded by all the new technology that's coming out and they don't know where to turn and having a resource, and the library is kind of a logical resource for answering questions on software programs and answering questions on other new technologies and how does this interface with that and how does this connect to that and how do I make this work; you know, that type of thing. So the librarians are, I think, are a valuable resource and can continue to be valuable if not grow in that position.

CONAN: John, thank you.

JOHN: Thank you.

CONAN: And we got this email from Bev Tyler in East Pawtucket in New York:

I was a member of one of the many teams of conservatives and history professionals from the American Association for State and Local History that spent time on the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast evaluating the needs of cultural institutions impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Our teams found that libraries in many areas of Mississippi, despite their own devastation became vital links in both helping residents and in beginning the process of restoring the community's heritage, the touchstones that helped define the area and make it a special place to live. This was especially true in places such as Biloxi and base St. Louis. Professional and volunteer staff at libraries along the Gulf Coast were among the few institutions that were out front in the process of recovery.

Again another thought for an idea of how a library can serve the community in the future.

Mr. FREY: Yes, I think, well libraries are a central gathering place. That role shouldn't be underestimated. It's a place that, it's a kind of intellectual backdrop for people to gather and share information. The idea that libraries should be an archive for historical things about one particular locale, that's also very important.

CONAN: Tom Frey, we're going to have to take a break, can you stay with us?

Mr. FREY: Sure.

CONAN: We'll take a couple of more calls about the library or the future after the break.

We're also going to be talking about a new anti-meth ad campaign that pulls no punches, but does it work?

Plus, we'll remember science fiction writer, Octavia Butler.

I'm Neal Conan--it's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan is Washington and here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News.

Sectarian violence following last week's bombing of a revered Shiite Mosque in Iraq led to a three-day curfew in Baghdad. Now, the curfew is over, but the mood in the city remains tense and negotiations to try to form a national unity government remain on hold.

And, last week, suicide bombers attacked a Saudi oil installation. Today, Saudi security forces raided a house in the capital Riad, five suspects were killed in a shootout; one more was arrested. Details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Today, we're talking about the library of the future with Tom Frey, Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute. He is with us from Boulder, Colorado. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255 or e-mail us, talk@npr.org and let's get another caller on the line, this is Scott.

Scott's calling from Denver, Colorado.

SCOTT (Caller): Hi. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Sure.

SCOTT: Well, my question and my issue is kind of related to libraries of the future in the sense that I believe the libraries of the future are already upon us with the Internet. And what I mean by that is the Internet allows us to combine all kinds of information and groups of information using the power of the computer and filters to filter out that different information.

So, what's been suggested is called the combination of science, or the culmination of science, the science of combination and that's where we have architectural, structural, material science, medical science; all those things combined into one database so we can draw from that different combinations of new materials; lighter metals, different tastes, different smells, faster transportation, more efficient fuels.

So, the libraries of the old days with librarians and the politics behind any library holding on to certain books here and not those books there and certain information here, well they acted as filters, the custodians of those old libraries. Well, the new libraries are going to be technicians. They're well versed in combination and using filters in the computer. So, that's my issue.

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

Mr. FREY: I would agree with that if libraries were only used as just a source of information. They're actually much more than that. If you go into the kid's library, they have storyteller time, they're reading books to kids, it's an education support mechanism. Libraries are a place to get away; they're a place to do research, to get outside of your house, to change the atmosphere. Libraries are much more than just this conduit to the information and so the, actually, there's a study that was just released today that shows that the number of visitors to libraries is going up. Now...

SCOTT: And I wonder if, as we become more computer savvy and the custodians of those libraries, the librarians, and the people themselves, which I think it's their responsibility to become educated in the use of the computer and the use of filters. And I talk about using filters, but really there's a small percentage of expert and professional users out there that are actually creating their own filters. Show me only this, only that.

And Google and the other search engines touch on filtration of the information and the new library data, but do the librarians really grab this concept and bring it into their hearts and truly choose to learn how to teach and educate the public about how to use this new library?

Mr. FREY: We're in this transition period not all the information is on computer right now. I did a, kind of a, ran into a research project a couple years ago where I was trying to find the history of the amortization table and I did all kinds of searching online and I was convinced that it was nowhere online to be found. So then I wrote to some friends and found out what books it was in.

But we're at an era where there's a whole generation of people that believe that if it's not online, it doesn't exist. There's tons of information that's in books out there that has not been digitized, that has not made it into the online world and you can't access it. And there are tons and tons of people that don't have access to computers right now. We're at roughly two-thirds of the world being connected online.

CONAN: Mm hmmm.

Mr. FREY: That means one-third isn't. And so libraries are a vital link that, in my estimation, should not go away. But they...

SCOTT: Oh, I absolutely agree with you there.

Mr. FREY: But they need to continue to prove their relevance. They need to continue to change to adapt to new ways of doing things. And that's where, that's what makes the whole thing so interesting. It's fascinating because as libraries transition, you know, we're going to go through kind of these anxieties over what things should we include, what should we not include, how much should we fund, how much shouldn't we fund, those types of things.

SCOTT: Well, I dare to imagine if one day all of the information in the world will be on a microchip that is then filtered throughout and throughout and throughout on one supercomputer in one little room and all people have to do is ask that computer questions.

CONAN: I read that book, I think.

Mr. FREY: We're going through this awkward transition where we haven't invented the ultimate small storage particle yet. You know, we've gone through this transition. We go from an eight inch disk to a five and a quarter inch disk to a three and a half inch disk to CD-ROMs, and tape drives, and RAM drives, and stick drives, and Flash drives, and all of that.

But we haven't reached the ultimate small storage particle yet. But that's coming.


Mr. FREY: Somewhere along the way we're going to reach that point. And my guess is we won't know it when we get there. We'll spend a few years floundering around trying to get smaller and it won't be possible.

CONAN: Well, we can't get longer, however. Time is demanding. Scott, I'm afraid I'm going to have to...

SCOTT: Thanks for the time.

CONAN: Thanks very much. And Tom Frey, we apologize for our technical difficulties. Thanks for hanging in there.

Mr. FREY: Sure. Well, thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Tom Frey, executive director of the DaVinci Institute in Louisville, Colorado, with us today from the studios of KGNU in Boulder.

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