We’ve all heard it before; printed books are dying a slow, agonizing death and ebooks are the wave of the future. The Sony eReader and Amazon’s Kindle were at the forefront of the revolutionary wave and now every tech company seems to be jumping in on the act.
Despite those old purists stopping their ears and clinging to their dog-eared, yellowed tomes of yore, the end of the printed word is nearing. It may take a few decades, it may take a few years, but the inevitable will happen (barring some doomsday scenario of worldwide economic crash that cuts off all electricity).
But one subject that hasn’t been as widely talked about as the end of the brick-and-mortar bookstores will have wide implications across the country: the fate of our libraries.
Personally, I stopped using libraries years ago, once I discovered the joys and conveniences of ebooks. I’m just as certain that quite a few people won’t even bat an eyelash as libraries will be forced to close both state and nationwide, as they lose funding and fall under the dominance of the digitized world. But this isn’t happy news for everyone.
Unknown to a large number of people, libraries are more than just a collection of dusty books that patrons check in and out and old geezers frequent. Libraries have become community gathering places, free Internet access for the poor and the only source of intellectual knowledge for those living in the outer fringes of society who can’t afford even the cost of an ebook. Losing our culture of libraries will be an enormous blow to a large portion of our population.
But it’s happening.
Martha Nichols of Salon recently wrote about the increasing irrelevancy of libraries. “What’s the purpose of libraries — really? To be a community gathering place? To promote lifelong learning? To help users navigate the information flow?”
As ebooks and the Internet gain prominence, libraries are finding it hard to stay relevant. Thankfully, some libraries are taking the initiative. In Oregon, where I used to live, the Beaverton City Library has started an ebook lending system, allowing patrons to digitally check out books without having to get up from their computer desk. Solutions like these give hope to library lovers around the country, for good reason.
But as digital library lending gains prominence, book publishers are quickly capitalizing on the new wave. Earlier this year, Harper-Collins decided that libraries can’t lend out an ebook more than 26 times. Why the magical number of 26, you ask? Because, apparently, that’s how many times a regular printed book can be lent out before it needs to replaced… yeah, ridiculous.
But as ebooks gain popularity and publishers profits begin to fall (it’s getting harder to fleece the public when the average price of an ebook on Amazon is $9.99 and less) then you can expect more publishers to take similar measures. Instead of finding a way to stay relevant in the increasingly digitized world, these publishers are scrambling to make the quick buck, before they fall into ruin like Borders.
Obviously, other solutions will need to be found if our libraries are going to survive the incoming wave. Otherwise, brace yourself as library closures hit the country, thousands of jobs are lost, and a large part of our cultural heritage disappears into obscurity.