The Ongoing Evolution of Libraries

I read a news story this weekend that confirms some of the things I’ve been saying about the future of libraries. The story, Texas library offers glimpse of bookless future, describes a new library in Texas, Bexar County’s BiblioTech, that doesn’t actually contain any books. This library contains computers and e-book readers that people use to work with content electronically. The article states that a lot of people are looking at this library to see how successful it becomes because the cost of maintaining such a library is significantly less than a traditional library. In fact, advances in technology will continue to make it possible to further reduce the cost of maintaining this particular kind of library.

However, I’ve been exploring a question for a while now about the future viability of libraries as physical entities. I first described this particular issue in my A New Emphasis On Libraries post. For 3 ½ years now I’ve tried to expand on the theme discussed in the Future of Libraries? post. The problem with a library that serves up only electronic media is that it’s overkill. Eventually, such libraries will disappear because people will be able to find the content online. A national library that’s based on the Internet will eventually take hold and that will be the death knell for the local library.

Something that the article brings up is that this library serves a neighborhood where few people have the hardware required to read electronic books and there is no Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) connection in the area for them to use. At one time rural areas didn’t have telephones because it was too expensive to service them. Now rural areas have good satellite or Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) connections. It won’t be long before rural and less serviced areas in cities have WiFi connectivity. So, the first problem this library solves won’t be a long term condition. We’re in a transitional phase.

The devices used to read books electronically will continue to evolve and become less expensive. At some point, the government will figure out that it’s less expensive to simply issue a device to those in need, rather than build physical libraries. At that point, a virtual national library will become feasible and probably appear on the scene. Paper books will eventually be relegated to the niche market—sold to those who have the money required to buy such products.

I’m one of the few, I’m sure, who will miss the paper book when this change happens. Using e-books for technical reading really is quite nice, but the feel of paper when I read fiction just can’t be overcome by the convenience of using an e-book reader. At one time I predicted that paper would continue to be available and preferred to meet my fiction needs, but things have changed faster than I could have ever predicted. It may very well be that the transition to e-book as the only viable media will happen within the next few years—only time will tell.

What do you feel about the transition to e-books and virtual libraries? If you like the idea of being able to find any book and check it out using a virtual library, let me know how you envision this system working. More importantly, how will such a system compensate authors for the time and effort spent putting the books together? Send me your ideas to John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.