Bookless Libraries?

Everyone’s talking about it.

Libraries are antiquated, outdated institutions that, in the age of the Internet, are no longer necessary and simply waste money on the obsolete printed book. Only the grey-haired, stern-faced, shushing librarians are fighting against the wave of the future that threatens the existence of libraries.



There are plenty of people who are standing up and fighting the advent of the e-book and the destruction of the library. So many people spontaneously post little blurbs on Tumblr about loving libraries, wishing they could live in libraries, and relishing the touch of the printed book, the smell of the pages, and the silence of the scholarship in libraries. The question that I have (and that everyone has, in a way) is: Where do we go from here?

Tim Newcomb recently wrote about the emerging “bookless library,” referring specifically to the new Library Learning Terrace at Drexel University, an innovative space that features movable furniture, white-board walls, and 170 million electronic items. The one thing that it does not feature? Printed books.

The dichotomy between (and the institutions featuring and people favoring)┬áprinted materials┬áversus┬ádigital materials can be charted on a spectrum. On the far right are the institutions and people solely favoring the printed book, and on the far left are the institutions and people solely favoring the e-book. In between, there are various mixtures of people favoring some printed materials and some digital materials, but with the current generations, there will always be people who favor the printed book. People are constantly trying to argue their points favoring one or the other, and there’s even a commercial for the Amazon Kindle that effectively pits the printed book against the e-book.

What is the most appropriate response of libraries and information service institutions? Should libraries take sides and steadfastly support one or the other? No, they should serve both. It is not the responsibility of the information service institutions to decide whether the people should be reading books on paper or on the iPad; they must ensure that the people have access to these materials regardless of medium. The people need to be able to have access to information, and some people cannot work with digital materials because of lack of access to computers and reader technology. This is what we call the digital divide, and with so many people who lack access to emerging technologies, libraries must continue to offer access to information for these people, even if it means providing printed books.

2 thoughts on “Bookless Libraries?

  1. Interesting post! I never really thought about how e-books would affect the libraries. I recently got an e-reader and I love it, but I also still love going to libraries. I feel that libraries should serve both people who love books and those who use e-readers. There are people planted firmly on both sides of the spectrum and some like me, who walk the line in the middle – embracing technology and cherishing the printed book. Of course, we can never please everyone.

    Also, have you met my local librarian? You described her perfectly – it’s almost comical how perfectly she fits the typical description of the librarian.

  2. Thanks, adw7984! I think that it is possible to please almost everyone at least. That’s why libraries and other institutions should offer materials in both formats. For the time being, there is still enough of a demand for printed books that publishing companies are still offering them, and there will always be some materials that will not be available in digital form.

    The library serves the people, and while the people still want printed books, the library will have to oblige.

    Also, while I have probably not met your local librarian, I have met a fair few librarians who fit that description. :)

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