Are Libraries Disappearing?

A couple days ago, I was reading about the plans to completely rebuild the Stanley A. Milner Library downtown Edmonton, and came across a few comments asking what the point is.  Libraries will disappear soon.

Why would libraries disappear?  Well, he says that since everyone’s going to be reading eBooks in the future, we no longer need paper copies.  Therefore, libraries will be useless.  I disagree.

First, libraries hold a lot of rare and old books.  These are not going to be digitised.  They’re actually quite valuable, and if people want to see them, they have to go to a library.

Second, not all books can legally be downloaded as an eBook.  It depends on the publisher and the author.  If they don’t want it available as an eBook, it can only be available in print.  Don’t want to buy it? Go to a library.

Libraries aren’t just places to find books.  They’re also places to study.  Many students go there to study.  When I was in university, we had to use the library for research.  Online research was not allowed.  It could not be cited in an official research paper.  We had to use hard copies for our research, and the only place to find them was in the library.  This included research journals, books that would cost hundreds of dollars to buy, and microfiche.  Good luck getting those online.

Libraries are social institutes.  People gather there for many purposes.  Children gather there for social events, reading, and learning to discover the joys of reading.  I can’t see kids pulling out iPads in a classroom to search for books online, go through Amazon and purchase them.  They go to the library, which, in my opinion, is a lot more fun, and the kids will interact with each other.

Libraries offer books to read for free for a limited time.  Putting them all online and available for free would mean that authors make nothing.  As a result, there’d be very little new fiction.  The entire publishing industry (including indie publishing) would collapse.  Sorry, no new books.  What’s the point in writing them if they can’t sell books, since they’d be available for free online?

Finally, I like libraries and books.  No, I love libraries and books.  I love being in libraries, and I love holding books in my hand.  Nothing beats that.  And besides, real books don’t need batteries.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Are Libraries Disappearing?”

  1. I agree with you! Libraries are special, need to be available, whether someone wants to read onscreen or hardcopy. I am encouraged that Edmonton is rebuilding their facility. Our little town is undergoing a facelift on its library, increasing it’s electronic capabilities and expanding some of its collections. Visits are UP and programs for the community are expanded. No matter the format, a library is a place for learning & study and social activities. The day we are no longer offered that venue is a sad thought.

    1. I’ve been hearing that more people are using libraries. I find that interesting considering the availability of eBooks. But that’s great that they are. I really enjoy libraries.

  2. My local library not only built a new building downtown to move into recently, but also opened another branch toward the edge of town. And there are always people there. So I don’t think people around here expect libraries to disappear soon. (In fact, the two most likely complaints are “their hours are shorter than the old library” and “they don’t have enough space to keep getting in new books at the rate they have been”.)

    I agree with everything you said except for one point. Not counting public domain books, the main place to get eBooks for free would be digital libraries, which still work similarly to physical libraries; you have the book for a limited time, and the library itself does has to buy the book. (Also, Overdrive, at least, requires a library card with your local library. I’m not sure they’d be equipped to function as a replacement for physical libraries rather than the supplement they currently are.)

  3. I work at a library, so I can say that we’re not just the books on our shelves. We provide tons of free computer access, for one; our public computers are always full, sometimes with a waiting list. We also have an auditorium running recent movies for the public, which is often rented by local speakers or for events, and we have several other rooms often rented for various purposes. Our tables are always full of students studying/being tutored and other residents who want a quiet place to do work. We have a children’s play-space and run children’s programming every morning, sometimes several times a day, with early literacy programming and other kid/parent activities. We have specialized teen spaces which are usually full of students, and have recently put in a small-business center and are working on a Makerspace which may have 3D printers and other such tools….a survey is currently out to the populace as to what they’d like to see here.

    As for books, most schools still require students to bring in physical items for their book reports/research projects, not just do everything digitally, so we have a constant stream of grade-school, middle- and high-school students looking for reference materials. We also lend music CDs, movies and audiobooks, to the point that we can’t keep the shelves stocked fast enough. More than that, we have ebooks, e-audiobooks, downloadable music, and databases that we provide to our customers free of charge. We also stock a variety of magazines and newspapers, including consumer reports.

    In addition to that, we have a call-center to answer reference questions; we do one-on-one appointments with customers to train them with their e-readers and other hardware and software; we host regular seminars on e-readers, local events, foreign languages, medical advice and other topics; and we provide print/fax/scan/copy services — you’d be surprised how many people still need a fax machine.

    We have seen no decrease in patronage; in fact, during the American downturn, we had a huge increase even while our staffing levels were being cut. Most people don’t have the money to consume all the media they want to consume, whether it be books, newspapers or movies. There are streaming options, yes, but those are all hobbled by production company dickering; likewise with ebooks. And there are some people who just can’t stand using an e-reader.

    Even if all the books went digital, we’d still have our programming — our children’s events, our book discussions, our study rooms, our auditorium rentals, our public-access computers and free wifi. Books may become a small sideline to the rest of this public service, but what other space is there for these quiet activities? As long as the public supports us and our cities/states agree that we deserve the budget, we’ll be here.

    And if the internet explodes or the zombie apocalypse happens, we’ll help the world put itself back together. One book at a time. 😀

    (Sorry that was so long. I can’t help myself.)

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