Personal libraries are increasingly found on small tablets in coffee shops and internet cafes. University students are discovering that the copy machine is a poor substitute for copying and pasting, and authors are learning that there are more than a few readers willing to spend $1 on an eBook who won’t risk $5 on a paperback. Individually these may seem like unrelated occurrences, but collectively they signal the end of an era.
That end is being hastened by Facebook and a campaign to connect the world to the internet. While that connectivity may seem to have little to do with print libraries, the two are very much intertwined. Print libraries are static repositories of information, while the internet is a dynamic information repository. Obviously a dynamic information resource is better than a static one, but there is much more to the issue than that. The internet is free, and libraries are not.
In fact, libraries are so expensive to run and maintain that everyone who goes into any library could be given a Kindle and there would still be money left over. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the yearly cost per student for a college library is about $500. That is on top of the yearly average of $1,200 for books and supplies. That means the average student will spend close to $7,000 on these costs over the course of a four-year degree program. For that price, every college student could purchase a tablet and a lifetime supply of eBooks.
Now consider the fact that more than four billion people in the world don’t have internet connectivity. This lack of connectivity is almost entirely due to economic reasons. When that two-thirds of the world population comes online, they aren’t going to be putting resources into print libraries. They’re going to be buying tablets and shopping online for free books, from free digital libraries.
For America, it is going to be another copper fiasco all over again, where the country tries to squeeze internet connections over first-generation copper phone lines while the rest of the world capitalizes on fiber. If the first world wants to keep up with the third world, libraries are going to close, or drastically change how they do business. There is simply no way around it. Brick-and-mortar libraries cost more per student than tablets, and online libraries are free.
The issue runs even deeper when you look just a little further in. Not only are the libraries around the world rapidly headed towards collapse as financially unsustainable dinosaurs. They have also largely outlived their usefulness as communal gathering places. There are amazing communities on the web. Some are mature, while others are developing or just finding their feet. Finding one committed to online reading, sharing information, or fostering literacy takes less than a second. These groups have entire libraries available for free. The only requirement is an internet connection.
A quick look at the astronomical growth of eBook sales is one of the best indicators available. Sales have exceeded $1 billion, and that number increases every year, while print book sales barely move in comparison. That statistic is not part of a fad, and it doesn’t represent an infatuation with tablets. It is an entirely new way of approaching book reading, and one that modern children are growing up with. Books are now to eBooks what board games were to video games 40 years ago. Fast forward 40 years and books will join chess sets in parks and retirement homes.
This move from print books to eBooks will only accelerate. Numerous companies both in and out of the U.S. are already positioning themselves to sell or otherwise capitalize on the eBook market. One such site is gobookee.org, which advertises free books, and then links to Amazon for purchase. This is the way Amazon is increasing market dominance on an almost daily basis. With their access to books, tablets, and global distribution, it shows no signs of abating.
In the end, these are the core reasons why libraries will become museums, or at best computer centers with little coffee shops tucked in the back. Facebook’s global drive for internet connectivity will be what takes the legs out from under this already stumbling giant.
If you doubt the accuracy of this article or what it means, send an email out to 20 of your friends. See how many know where the public library is. Of those who do, how many have visited recently? The answers might surprise you.