Future of Libraries?

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].

Working with Code in e-Books

This is an update of a post that originally appeared on March 16, 2016.

Most of my technical readers now use e-books instead of paper books. Of course, there is a convenience factor to storing your entire library on a Kindle, even if it’s a software version of the Kindle. Of course, there are all sorts of e-book formats for your desktop system as well. The point is that electronic format makes a lot of sense when dealing with technical books.

However, e-books can cause some interesting problems and I’ve encountered a few with a number of readers now. The most important consideration is that you can’t cut and paste code from an e-book directly into your IDE and expect it to work. There are all sorts of reasons for this exclusion. For example, cutting and pasting may insert special characters into the output stream or the resulting paste may not have white space in the right places. A common problem is that publishers often convert regular single and double quotes into curly quote equivalents. The two kinds of quotes (both single and double) are completely different and the second type definitely won’t compile.

The best option when working with an e-book is to view the code in the e-book, but still get the downloadable source code for the book from my website or the publisher’s website as described in the book’s introduction. If you can’t find the downloadable source, always feel free to contact me at [email protected]. I want to be sure you have a great reading experience, which means having source code that actually runs in your development environment.

Another potential problem with e-books is that you may see unfortunate code breaks (despite the efforts of the publisher and myself). When you need to understand how white space works with a programming language, always review the downloadable source. The fact that the downloadable source compiles and runs tells you that all the of white space is in the right place and of the correct type. Typing the source code directly out of your e-book could result in added carriage returns or other white space errors that will cause the code to fail, even though the commands, variables, and other parts of the code are all correct.

As always, I’m open to your questions about my books. If you don’t understand how things work, please contact me—that’s why I’m here.

Obtaining Kindle for Your Non-Kindle System

A number of readers have written me about my post entitled, “The e-Book in Your Future” where I discuss the future of printing and the viability of devices such as the Kindle. The problem for many readers is that they either don’t want to get a Kindle or they want the e-books they buy to appear on more than just their Kindle. For example, they may use a PC at work. It’s not impossible to use your Kindle too, but it could be inconvenient. Perhaps you want to cite the content that you found in a book as part of a report—being able to see that content on your PC would make it a lot easier to copy and paste the citation to the report.

What many people may not realize is that Amazon has made it possible to read your Kindle materials on non-Kindle systems. Because I want to encourage people to use the device that best meets their reading needs, I decided to put the following list of Kindle software downloads together.



After you download the software, you install it on the host system. Any Kindle-compatible e-books you own are now available on that device as well. I haven’t tested the setup on anything other than the PC so far, but it works well under Windows 7. I’d love to hear how the software is working for other people. If I get enough feedback, I’ll provide an update about the Kindle software here. Send me your comments at [email protected].


The e-Book in Your Future

Back in February I wrote a post entitled, “Paper or e-Book?” where I stated a personal preference of using paper for fiction books and e-books for anything technical. I expanded on that post by writing about the advantages and disadvantages of online media when compared to technical books in my “Is the Technical Book Dead?” post. I even considered the effects of electronic media on libraries in my “Future of Libraries?” post. Let’s just say I’ve given this topic a lot of thought, but up until now, facts have been a little hard to come by. Most people speculate about e-books, but they can’t truly back up their speculation with hard facts of the sort that just about anyone can accept. However, I’ve been seeing articles such as, “Ebook Sales Both Rise and Fall in Wiley’s Divisions” (by Mercy Pilkington) as of late.

It seems as if I’m not the only one who finds the convenience of e-books addicting when it comes to technical topics. However, according to this article (probably the best of the batch I found online), the sales of e-books are stratified. Someone is less likely to buy a cookbook in e-book form, than a tome on writing your first application in C#.

My take on everything I’m seeing is one of practicality. A technical book in e-book form is convenient. You can pack entire bookshelves in an incredibly small form factor. Even the least expensive Kindle can pack 1,400 books in a tiny form factor. You can read all of your books anywhere you go and modern screens have become better at presenting information under a range of conditions, as long as you can focus on the e-book, rather than the surrounding environment.

I also see e-books becoming status-quo in the classroom. In addition to being able to store a hoard of books in an incredibly small space, schools will find book updates far easier to provide and less expensive as well. The media options provided by e-books will enhance the learning experience. From what I’ve seen, e-books are already becoming well established in the school system and I see a day coming soon where a student won’t touch a paper book as part of the educational process.

However, e-books are less useful in some situations. If you spill a sauce on your paper cookbook, you wipe it off and continue on as if nothing happened. Spilling the same sauce on your Kindle will have disastrous results as the sauce oozes into the device and damages it. Even a cheap Kindle costs $79.00 (at last look), which makes for a mighty expensive sauce.

I can also see problems using a Kindle for woodworking. For one thing, the print is small enough that it would be really hard to read construction instructions while using a Kindle. Not only that, but imagine trying to use a drawing in the Kindle—good luck. In addition, dust specs from the woodworking environment would eventually end up inside the device. I haven’t met an environment yet that wood dust can’t penetrate.

It’s hardly surprising then that e-books have become quite popular in some areas, but not in others. The debate is over though. Sometime in your future you’ll likely find yourself using an e-book for a practical need. The more time I spend researching the topic though, the less likely I find it that paper books will go away anytime soon. Paper is still quite practical for many needs and people will use something that’s both inexpensive and practical. Not many people are into gizmos for the sake of having them.

That brings me to my latest project. For the first time I’m writing a book that’s designed from the ground up for the electronic environment. The book is entitled, “Java eLearning Kit for Dummies” and the more I work on it, the more fascinated I become with the possibilities that this book provides. You’ll receive a CD with this book that contains a fully interactive environment. In fact, for the first time ever, you’ll be able to engage in one of my books without bothering with the paper content. You’ll gain access to the book’s information by interacting with the content on the CD. The entire concept is amazing and I’m having a great time working on it.  I’ll let you know more details when the book gets closer to release, but for now, it’s something to think about as you look over the book offerings online. Expect to see more books of this sort.

What is your take on e-books? What niche do you see e-books filling? Do you see yourself using e-books in the future (why or why not)? Talk to me about your expectations for e-books at [email protected].