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Libraries Are Dead — Long Live the Library

by on November 9, 2012

On November 6, 2012 in addition to deciding the next President, Senators, et.al., my town decided on the future of our library with a referendum on a proposed (and much needed) expansion.  Sadly it was no surprise, that the referendum was defeated by approximately 600 votes. In the months leading up to this election, the issue became so heated on both sides I wondered if I should be coming to work in Kevlar.

The concerns on both sides of the issue have been pretty standard: cost, timing, aesthetics and of course, need. I have been literally screamed at regarding the future of libraries related to our expansion effort. After all, the future is electronic, the detractors say. There is no need for space. Everything is online. The microchip needs barely any room. You all know the story.

But this isn’t about THAT story.  This is about why we entertain, defend, and engage in that story. I’ve had this debate over and over and I keep asking myself: Why?  What makes this even a discussion?

Did instant coffee eliminate ‘real’ coffee?  On the contrary.  Coffee shops have sprung up en masse and whole beans are even sold in convenience stores. Did fast food eliminate the family restaurant?  No.  Even mediocre chains seem to be going strong and fine dining has reached new heights with celebrity chefs. And video did not kill the radio star. The paperless society?  Please! Now we have even more paper as we print out our emails for documentation and safekeeping because we can’t trust a hard drive not to crash.So why do so many people, so strongly believe that the electronic book, a concept that has been around since the 1970s1, is going to eliminate print and libraries forever?

I will grant you, I’m not a big e-book fan.  My ageing eyes prefer hard copy to the screen I stare at all day at work.  I also resent paying for a device that then requires me to also pay for a book; when I could simply pay once, for a physical copy. Prone to losing, dropping, spilling, etc., I don’t want another piece of electronics to look out for; the above mentioned book is far more forgiving.  And let me tell you after paying for and protecting the device, when I do inevitably damage the item and have to have it replaced, I’m going to be madder than a wet cat!

Still… I’m not immune.  I’ve looked longingly at the Kindle ads.  I’ve rationalized that I will be able to carry dozens of books with me, and that it can do “other” things.In addition, I like toys.  I’m an avid online gamer. So every time I see the ad, I want one! And every time I see the ad and this desire wells, I go to the store to check it out and I rediscover that I have been snared.

I know I won’t use the device and I have strong justifications for why I should not spend the money.  And yet every time I see the ad…I want it.

Why?

Marketing.

Perhaps it is subliminal advertising?  Possibly it’s our need to keep a high tech momentum? Perchance we just want new toys?  Could electronics make reading seem more exciting?  Maybe it’s just good old fashioned promoting? Or it could be all of the above.  I don’t know, but it is working.

E-books are really just another format. A fashion. A style. We know fashions change. In the future, maybe we’ll all wear capes? Jumpsuits?  Boxes?  I don’t know this either, but I do know, we will all still be wearing clothes.

REFERENCES

  1. Project Gutenberg founded 1971 – http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:About


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