Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age?—Part 1

Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age?—Part 1

libraries in the digital age
In a previous blog post, we asked whether bookstores will go the way of dinosaurs? The question is even more pressing for libraries, which face a brave new digital world...on top of state and local budget cuts.

First things first: how will libraries adapt to the growing e-book age? That question plagues both libraries and publishers as the trend to digital books shoots upward. More and more of us are turning to Kindles, Nooks, and tablets—we find a book and download it NOW! It feels so good.

But what happens when you download an e-book from the library?  Do you have to stand in a virtual line for two weeks till it's your turn to download their single copy? If that's the case, bye-bye library...it's a straight shot to Amazon!

Libraries don't own e-books the same way they own book-books. They license them from publishers through distributors.  So...how many times are libraries allowed by publishers to lend the same e-book (simultaneously and over time)? Only once...20 times...100...1,000 times?

Fortunately, libraries and publishers are working on a business model that will sustain them both. They may settle on a subscription fee...or a flat fee per e-book, but whatever the ultimate solution, it should allow both to survive and thrive. At least in the near term.

The long-term is murkier: are bricks & mortar libraries even necessary? If books are virtual, existing in some amorphous computing cloud, will we need never-ending rows of bookshelves? If research is done by computers, what role will reference librarians play? We can deal with those questions in another blog post. But for now, let's say that very smart people are putting their heads together on this issue, too.

The final question—budget cuts. I've got a four-letter response to that...but it's unprintable.

Here's the four-word response—change our tax system.

If we're worried about dumbing down the American mind, something's very wrong with our priorities when we reduce library funding. The world may be turning digital, but for now—and for some time in the future—libraries serve as the communal repository of knowledge...available to all comers.

See the follow-up articles: Whither Go Libraries in the Digital Age—Part 2 and Part 3.


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