Critically, he told an audience, the history of the institutions had allowed them to build up trust with members of the public.
"I was surprised, and continue to be, how many smart people ask me in all seriousness 'do we really still need these library things in this age of smart phones, search engines' and so on?" he said.
Real-life libraries could outlast the internet, Roly Keating says (AP)
"And I have to say, it is a serious question at a time of public policy over investment. And what we collectively believe libraries are and are for will determine what form they survive in."
He added: "This feels a pretty brutal choice that we are allegedly confronted with. And it won't surprise you, here at a gathering like this, that I think it's a false contradiction and an utterly false choice to make.
"When we talk about libraries, I'm told about the old values, the traditional values of these institutions. Some believe they are being replaced by new ones about being more open and connected and virtual.
"And of course our belief, passionately, at the British Library is that it's about both. And that's the great richness of what a library is and can be."
Speaking of how libraries could and would flourish in a society obsessed with the internet, Mr Keating added her had been "very struck" by the strength of global networks dedicated to the preservation of information.
"They stand for a certain freedom, and privacy of thought and search and expression," he said of libraries.
"They stand for private study in a social space; they are safe, they're places of sanctuary and play a vital role in some of the poorest communities. And they are trusted.
The internet will not override the need to trusted libraries, Mr Keating says (Alamy)
"Our commercial partners in the information delivery space do wonderful things and we couldn't live our lives without them.
"But the time frame we think on, centuries back and centuries into the future, allows us to think about trust in its highest sense, and authentication and provenance of information, and digital information in particular.
"Those are hard-won privileges and values and they're worth defending."
He added: "With all our fascination of and love for the internet in the age of data, these values and the values and idea of the library predated the internet and if we get it right may yet outlast it.
"And in some ways they are the most powerful and resiliant network of all, if we continue to believe in them."
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."