The Rise of the Digital Library and the Death of the Dead Tree Editions3 min read
Technology is rapidly changing the world around us. One invention that has changed the way people read, perhaps more than any other since the invention of the printing press, is the e-reader. People are able to carry thousands of books in the palms of their hands. It’s revolutionized the book and publishing industry in much the same way that Apple revolutionized the world of music. In fact, many people blame the failure of Borders Bookstores on their reluctance to embrace the digital world readers were turning to.
The Times – They are a-Changin
Cloud computing, and services offered by companies like Rackspace, has made amazing leaps forward in technology possible. One sure sign that times are changing is that libraries across the country are beginning to embrace digital media. Many of them already offer local patrons the opportunity to “check out” digital media in the form of e-books and audiobooks through various online services. But now, there are public libraries that are considering going completely digital.
First of all, there is sufficient public demand for digital media to warrant the consideration of an ambitious plan such as this. Granted, we’re not talking about getting rid of all books in all public libraries and going completely digital forever—at least not anytime soon. What is being proposed, and considered, is opening smaller branches in public library systems that will be all-digital.
Benefits of All-Digital Libraries
The main reason this is being considered is that there is sufficient demand, by the public, for services such as this. The reason it’s being given serious consideration, according to this InformationWeek article, is the belief that this can be a more cost-effective approach than traditional public libraries. It’s not all dollars and cents, however. These are a few of the other benefits of digital libraries to consider.
1) Size – Real estate is expensive and large libraries that house thousands of volumes of books require a great deal of floor space—even if the library occupies multiple levels. Paperless libraries won’t require nearly as much real estate and can even be placed in shopping centers and existing structures.
2) Convenience – Because these libraries are smaller, they can easily be placed in areas that are more convenient to the public. People are more likely to embrace the library and make use of it if it’s in a location that’s easy for them to get to and utilize on a regular basis rather than somewhere that’s out of their way.
3) Demand – The public is demanding that more and more efforts be made to minimize waste, maximize tax dollars, and still meet the demands of the population for affordable options for education and entertainment. These paperless libraries are a great way to accomplish all these things and more.
Potential Pitfalls of Paperless Libraries
While there are many benefits, cheers, and adulations regarding a paperless library system, there are also a few potential pitfalls to consider as well. Two primary concerns that have been raised are as follows.
1) Cost Prohibitive – While the overhead expenses of the real estate involved in a paperless library would be considerably less, depending on the type of lending offered by digital libraries, the costs could soar quickly depending on how cheaply the libraries could gain access to e-readers to loan to library patrons. After all, part of the beauty of this plan would be to provide e-readers to low-income families that would not otherwise have access to them through the library’s lending program.
2) Book Lover Concerns – There are some people who still insist that libraries going totally digital could be the final nail in the coffin of the print industry for books. They’re worried that something they love is falling by the wayside due to the total dominance of digital books on the market today. While the concern does deserve some attention, there really isn’t a huge risk of the print industry completely dying anytime soon.
Books have come a long way over the centuries. Love them or hate them, e-readers have brought a new generation around to the joys of reading and made it a popular pastime for people from all walks of life once more. Cloud technology is paving the way for even greater versatility when it comes to lending and exchanging literature for e-readers around the world. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this technology and its potential impact on the world of reading.