This is an update of a post that originally appeared on June 9, 2011.
Despite my leanings toward an entirely new kind of library when I wrote this post nearly twelve years ago, the library today seems much like the library back then, with a few changes. I still don’t actually visit my library to view the stock of books anymore. All I need to do is go to the library’s site online, look for the book I want by anything that comes to mind, and then order the book. I physically go to the library to pick the physical book up later. However, I still see the future, as described by devices such as the Kindle and the serious increase in audiobook usage, as electronic. In fact, I just recently had my first audiobook published, something I thought might never happen. The one thing that has taken me by surprise is the self-checkout library. I imagine that self-checkout has made the librarian’s life a lot easier, but I wonder about the cost of personal contact with patrons. Will we eventually stop talking to each other completely?
I had touched on the topic ebook usage a little in my “Paper or eBook?” post, but didn’t take the discussion to a logical conclusion at that point. What will happen when the library becomes completely electronic? It could happen—probably not within my lifetime, but definitely within the lifetime of the next generation. It could eventually happen that you’ll receive a device that connects to a worldwide library and delivers only electronic media. There are a number of advantages to this arrangement:
- A book would be at your disposal 24/7 without much effort on your part at all.
- There is no limit to the number of people who could view a book.
- Rare or exotic books could be scanned and made available electronically.
- Reading would become a do anywhere sort of activity that might actually benefit children who don’t currently read nearly enough.
- Money would no longer define access to knowledge.
This future world has a few problems, of course. The people who put creative talent into materials of all sorts are already under attack today. Many people feel no need to pay for the materials they use—the information should be free in their minds. Barriers still exist to some degree and most people realize that people with creative talent require compensation in order to live, but the library of the future will make such barriers non-existent. How will someone who writes, draws, sings, or does anything else creative survive in a world where free electronic forms of everything exist? (Libraries are allowed to bypass copyright under certain conditions and I don’t see a problem with these exemptions, but there is a balance to maintain.)
I imagine that artists of all sorts will need to find some other means of support in the future. (In fact, my business has changed considerably over the past twelve years for this very reason.) Perhaps the government will step in and provide compensation to artists from library fees or taxes (it seems doubtful here in the US). Certainly, the current system of copyright is breaking down already. I read about copyright issues almost daily online in articles such as this one on ComputerWorld. The problem is that a lot of people talk about copyright, but few do anything about it. However, legislating morality has never worked in the history of the world and I doubt very much it will work now, especially considering what I see happening in government funded agencies such as libraries. Change is inevitable, if not always good. Then again, I can’t see this particular change as necessarily bad (despite not necessarily wanting to live it myself—call me attached to the physical book or simply outdated).
What sorts of changes are you seeing in your local library? Where do you feel these changes will end? How will people of a creative bent be compensated in the future? I’d love to hear your views on any or all of these questions at [email protected].