There was once a time, it seems so long ago now, when libraries were the place to go to find out how to train your dog, where your family lineage came from, the history of your neighborhood dive bar, and so on. Now, we simply plug in and rummage through the Web’s stunning panoply of digital archives, personal ephemera, bit torrents, blogs and social networks - and never mind the legality of all our downloading. Even as a student, I was more likely to turn to squarely 2.0 resources - Google Search, Google Books, Amazon - before visiting my school’s online card catalog. And I’m in the majority. By 2006, 89 percent of undergraduates in the United States began their research on the Web.  So what role can libraries now play in the congested online space?
Librarians are acutely aware of the Internet’s competitive environment, and in reaction are tailoring their services to suit all of us who use it. The picture isn’t so bleak; most librarians describe a relationship with the Web that is mutually beneficial. Basically, the Internet does a fantastic job of fulfilling one of libraries’ most crucial goals: making information more accessible. Libraries are happy to offer their digitized collections for indexing by major search engines; they’re also simplifying their electronic catalogs so they can be harvested and linked to contexts outside their own websites, for instance sharing bibliographic data with the Internet Archive’s Open Library. In return, libraries offer degrees of constancy and control so often lacking in the chaotic flux and ephemerality of the Web. Major libraries are positioning themselves as conservators of digital information, creating impressive and resource-intensive digital archiving programs, and their bibliographic metadata has become a critical resource for scholars verifying and authenticating online documents.
The Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Netherlands is particularly unsentimental in its embrace of digital technologies. A 2009 report predicts its digital resources will be increasing much fast than print, in order to offer “everyone everywhere access to everything published in and about the Netherlands.”  This summer I spoke to the KB’s Irmgard Bomers, Head of Users Services, about some of its current projects including web archiving, copyright negotiation, and semantic web.
Digitization is radically changing the role of the library. How do you frame your services in relation to all the other resources the Internet can offer?
Digital information is a competitive environment, and libraries’ position in this field currently is uncertain. We have legacy as a physical space, and our digital services have traditionally operated in a closed environment. Now we must adapt our position to the Internet. Digitization can offer the KB a position into this future, so digitized information of digital objects will become our standard instead of physical books.
A primary theme for us is access. In the future if there is both a physical book and an ebook, we’ll acquire the ebook. That's why we have a big digital preservation program running, to assure that if we choose not to keep the physical object, we can give access to the digital version forever.
Beyond digitizing works ourselves, we can coordinate the digitizing output of several Dutch and national libraries within Europe and projects like Europeana. There will be better results if more of us work on these initiatives together. At this moment, for example, Google Books digitized 300,000 volumes of Dutch books from other collections, so we'll negotiate with them to reuse this content and bring it into a Dutch context. We don’t see ourselves as competitors of Google, because we can use the output they provide, and its search platform makes our services apparent. But libraries can also build a platform that brings a wider audience to digitized content and help customers navigate it. There's much more interesting content than you can find instantly on Google.
The KB seems to be particularly open to digital technologies. How many books total do you have in your collection, and how many total have become digitized? What other digital services are you now offering?
We have 4.2 million total books, and we want to have 10% digitized in 2013. We think that 80% will be done here and with our collaborators and 20% by other initiatives. Just last weeks we introduced the first million pages of newspapers in Netherlands, and we’re planning another 7 million pages in the next year. We want to offer digitization-on-demand next year.
We’re collaborating with a national program called Metamorphosa that restores and preserves digitized materials from cultural heritage organizations in the Netherlands. And we’re experimenting with web archiving as well; we’ve harvested 1000 Dutch-based websites to see if it can be preserved forever. Like the Internet Archive, this will be an interesting resource to let us chart the development of the Web over a century.
We’ve also worked over the last two years to structure our data architecture, and it’s now open and harvestable. We’re moving towards the semantic web, to standards for an open environment, and we’ll collaborate with other public and scholarly libraries in Netherlands as they reuse this data. We have plans to build standards for a digital publication platform that makes visible all digitized published content for reuse in multiple environments, such as audiovisual archives like Sound and Vision and image archives like Memory of the Netherlands. This project is similar to Europeana’s role for Europe’s cultural heritage, though we’ll work at a national level.
Preserving this data is a unique selling point. Libraries have a long history, and we can offer the insurance that this data will be available within two hundred years. Whereas we don't know if Google’s will exist in 100 years
What about the library as a physical space? Do you see its role diminishing?
Libraries do have a footprint in society, and they should combine both hard and soft channels. Apple didn't have its Apple store at first, but now they see the importance of a visible existence in society. The physical library is still a valuable meeting place. Usage is going up in all aspects, both at the physical stacks and with our digital services. We have 5 million visits online per year, and we want to quarter it to 20 million in four years. We now have longer opening hours at our building, seven days a week from 10am. Since then the number of visitors is growing with 10% per year.
Ideally, what would your digital library look like if there were infinite resources to make anything possible? How does copyright, for instance, make a dent in your goals?
Our vision is in the end to have everything digitized and available 24 hours a day, but it's an imaginary goal. From a market perspective we should mostly digitize where the demand is, but then we have to deal with DRM. That's one of the changes within libraries, because historically you want to offer everything for free. If governments give you money to offer items for free, you can only digitize old material. But demand is for newer information, so we digitize both.
And then we have to think about how we can charge for it and redirect money to the rights holder. We’re negotiating for example with newspapers for this, and we’ll talk to publishers and rights holders. It is never a problem to show any material on-site. We have 15 million digitized articles in our electronic depot, but most aren’t online the public Internet. In order to make it available, we’ve invested in an identity management infrastructure, so in the future we are able to see the background of a user and then differentiate in prices - that's new for libraries. Though the service wouldn’t force you to identify yourself. It's the customer’s choice.
What do you feel is lost for a reader when translating from analogue to digital? What can be gained?
What can be gained by digitization is that it's much easier to access texts and make combinations. What you see with digitization are more channels and opportunities to use information. With digital newspapers it's so much easier to search in text and make combinations. But some people love the smell of books. This will be available for anyone who takes the effort to visit the library. It will never come that far that we won't store books anymore.
 Koninklijke Bibliotheek. “Strategic Plan 2010‐2010.” The Hague, 2009. PDF
 Spiro, Lisa and Geneva Henry. “Can a New Research Library Be All Digital?” The Idea of Order: Transforming Research Collections for 21st Century Scholarship. Washington D.C.: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2010: p 22.