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Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Discussion: The Future of the Book

Back when I started library school (Fall of 1998), we were inundated with articles about how the printed book was dead. We had long discussions about what libraries will do when no one reads books anymore.

Well, here we are 12 years later and even in this "Year of the Kindle," the printed book is as strong as ever. Check out this essay from the Daily Beast in which the CEO of Ingram Book Company discusses the book's staying power.

How do I feel? Well I know that I don't have a Kindle as of yet. I know that the printed book is the perfect delivery device for reading: you don't need a power source and you can take it with you everywhere. I know that I cannot physically pass on a book I loved if it is on my ipod or Kindle. And, I know that libraries are busier than ever, and that a closer examination shows that book circulation stats are up. But I also know that we are going to use any leftover budget money from the BPL RA budget at the end of the year to buy 1 Kindle for the staff to use, evaluate, and think about how patrons could best use it.

I am all for technology, but time has shown that the book is here to stay. One of the best books on this is A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. This is not a dry historical text, but a narrative of reading across the centuries.

So, today we have printed books, ebooks, and audio books. Hopefully, they stand together and encourage more people to read. We need to embrace the new without casting the old aside.

Which leads me to today's Monday Discussion please let me know how you feel about this issue. What do you think is the future of the book? How do you feel about the new book technologies? Do you think the Kindle (and others like it) is a fad?


John BPL RA said...

Whenever anyone asks me about this I always have flashbacks to elementary school when teachers would tell us that the Metric System would replace the English System and that we all had better learn it "for our own good". Well, it's over 25 years later and while many of those teachers have died of old age, the English System lives on.

This is just one example of many. Remember when people thought CBs were going to replace telephones? How about when people thought robots would replace factory workers and fast food workers? Hmmm...come to think of it, that girl who made my strawberry shake yesterday did look a little mechanical.

With all due respect to the Kindle, the notion that it or anything else could ever replace books is, at best, highly unlikely. Books have been around for over 5000 years. That's a lot of books. There is no way that kind of volume could ever be converted to Kindle within our lifetimes. For that reason alone, I think books are going to be safe for a long, long time. Also, books are pretty much immune to changing technology. Book design has changed very little since Gutenberg whereas Kindle could be replaced by something better almost immediately. Everyone thought Atari was the best video game system ever. Then they saw Nintendo. There are many readers who just don't like Kindle. They only like books. They complain that Kindles don't feel, look or even smell the same. They don't hold up well when dropped. They don't have many of the titles readers are looking for. THEY'RE JUST NOT BOOKS.

Of course, I could be wrong. I don't have a crystal ball. Maybe Kindles are the only rational choice for societies of the future. You may want to go down to your basement and see if you still own a CB. Phones could go any minute.

Jackie, BPL Youth Services said...

Ok, I confess. I own a Nook (Barnes & Noble's version of a Kindle). I love it! It's great when I HAVE to have a book and all the libraries and bookstores are closed. (I'm up a lot in the middle of the night, when these fancies strike). It's great for traveling...you can 'carry' a ton of books in one small, compact container. And, it's fun to lend books to my friends and daughter electronically.

Having said all that, I wholeheartedly believe that the traditional books are here to stay. I LOVE browsing down a library shelf. I love the feel of the book in my hands. I love flipping back and forth between the pages...and the list goes on and on.

Now let me put on my children's librarian hat. You could not possibly snuggle up with a child and read to him or her with a Nook or Kindle...where would the colorful illustrations be? What would happen to the act of pointing to each word spoken? How would the experience to instill a lifelong love of reading be affected?

I'm all for technology...but, the physical book is here to stay. The overwhelming and ever-increasing activity inside library walls prove it.