In a recent USA Today story it’s becoming clear the next major issue is what will the libraries do with all these printed books? As in the story “E-books are a hot story at libraries “; OverDrive Inc, a suppler of electronic books to over 13,000 libraries worldwide, reported a 200% increase in e-book circulation from 2009 to 2010 with matching growth expectations for the future (talk about viral). So while library officials see the value in providing e-books (like there is an option), many don’t have the money to keep up as “Libraries are facing huge budget cuts all across the country,” says Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association.
So here is the rub as the eBook world grows, it’s clear that the need for printed books will fall at a faster rate as data age’s its relevance will diminish quickly and all long term reference resources can now be found online. Thus one could take the entire reference section of the library haul it off to the dumpster as sitting at this very device which is being used to write this post, one can access a data store much larger than even the best reference library could provide. So what about the rest? Well as a bibliophile, I’m glad to see things like project Guttenberg and Google books (where they are scanning out of print tome’s) as well as the vast network of amateur endeavors such as the DIY Book Scanner form which shares plans to build “book scanners” with basic consumer products and hand tools.
So it’s clear that the information is headed to a better place if you will, however what to do with the millions of collected print volumes which abound? While of course some will be maintained for posterity as they possess some form of originality, but that will be less than 1% of the whole. As it’s here the idea of Fahrenheit 451 starts to jump through my head as the cremation of a book is a kin to signifying one as being part of an anti-intellectual society. However what is the option, as is rotting for a thousand plus years in the darkness of an anaerobic landfill a better demise?
While this may sound like philosophical waxing of literary pose, there is a real side to this issue as the story goes on to point out that in 2007, then first lady Laura Bush recognized the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in North Carolina as one of the USA’s best. Now that same library just three years later is closing four branches and laying off employees due to budgetary cuts. So where is the library system going to get the money to buy or in many cases re-buy the books it needs? As while Licenses vary widely in price, depending on the popularity of the title and publisher, a license for say John Grisham’s “The Confession” costs $28.95 for the eBook version. However for a printed version of the same book, the library would have gotten a 40% discount!
Now how does that all work? No cutting of trees, to milling paper, no printing, collating, binding, trucking stocking or UPS delivery and it costs more? Ok, I’m a capitalist however capitalism means competition and free markets so why isn’t that happening here and where again is the FTC to keep watch? As we enter the age of electronic publishing many challenges become clear as what to do with the outdated printed tomes, the massive buildings which where once required to house them along with the droves of people required to care for them.
Then how to we care for our new brood of information stores, as could a computer virus wipe out mankind’s store of knowledge much like the fire set by the ambitions of Julius Caesar brought the demise of the Library of Alexandria?