By and large, I’d say the impact of eReaders like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD are minimal in the beginning, but that it could develop into more fundamental in the future.
Over the short term, the increase of eReaders can potentially develop a library’s lending capacity a thousandfold.
If you’ll permit me to make use of an example from my own life, my girlfriend and I a short time ago talked about buying a pet tortoise. However, we did not want to go in ill-equipped, so we attended our local library in search of a book that would outline exactly what care a tortoise requires (and what it’d cost to provide said care). Sadly, the library didn’t have the book we wanted. We ordered it from a different branch, but 5 tortoise-free weeks afterward, we’re still waiting.
If our library would lend us the tortoise book as a digital duplicate that I can read on an Amazon kindle fire, Apple iPad or Kindle Paperwhite, the entire mess could easily be prevented. So, in the short term, the potential makes it positive, as libraries could supply less in-demand books digitally and lease them out easily.
Over the long run, though, I would be nervous that ebooks would turn out to be the norm and that paper books will be increasingly used as passé and archaic with the public. This may cause books being pulped in record numbers (backed by the noticeable environmental benefits of less paper being printed) until books ultimately became a collectable, elitist thing, which might be pretty awful.
It feels like science fiction and hopefully the greater extreme elements of it won’t come to pass, but the rest is maddeningly believable should you examine present tastes.
However, libraries do tend to become more source centred nowadays and the library remains an important centre of cultural and historic information, also as a much-loved public meeting place. The British library has moved with the times quite well, at least up until now.
To a point, we’ll always have books; it is just a matter of how many.
To quote American Clergyman Henry Ward Beecher,
“A library isn’t a luxury, but one of the necessities of life”
Personally, the biggest threat to Britain’s libraries isn’t the ruthless advance of recent tech, however. The largest threat to the sanctity of our written word is the current Government, an institution which seems to think that we, as a state cannot afford to hold our libraries open (they cost about £1bn a year to run), but can spend £10million on a public funeral that 60% people believe to be pointless. That’s enough to maintain 10+ local libraries open, serving their communities and running at optimum proficiency all year round. I do not mean to jump on my soapbox here, but you’ve got to admit that it’s something of a damning indictment if you are a fan of the printed word.
If this particular trend continues, we might find ourselves in a similar boat as Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who, in 1832 wrote,
“What a sad want I am in of libraries, of books to assemble facts from! Why is there not a Majesty’s library in every county town? There is a Majesty’s jail and gallows in every one.”
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