Usually, I’d say that the impact of eReaders such as Amazon Kindle Fire HD could be minimal in the beginning, but that it could turn into more significant in the future.
Over the short term, the rise of eReaders can probably enhance a library’s lending capacity a thousandfold.
If you’ll allow 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. Conversely, we didn’t desire to go in unprepared, so we attended our local library looking for a book that would outline what care a tortoise involves (and what it might cost to provide said care). Sadly, the library didn’t possess the book we sought. We ordered it from a different branch, but 5 tortoise-free weeks afterward, we are still waiting.
If our library would loan us the tortoise book like a digital copy that I could peruse on an Amazon Kindle Fire HD, Apple iPad or Kindle Paperwhite, the whole disorder could easily be prevented. So, on the short term, the potential is positive, as libraries could store less in-demand books digitally and rent them out without difficulty.
Over the long run, however, I’d be worried that ebooks would develop into the norm which paper books would be increasingly used as passé and archaic by the public. This will cause books being pulped in record numbers (backed with the noticeable environmental benefits of a reduced amount of paper being printed) until books eventually became a collectable, elitist thing, which would be pretty awful.
It feels like science fiction and hopefully the more extreme elements of it will not come to pass, but the remainder is maddeningly believable should you study present trends.
However, libraries do tend to become more resource centred these days as well as the library is still an important centre of cultural and historic advice, as well as a much-loved public get-together place. The British library has moved with the times reasonably well, at least up until now.
To some degree, we will 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 largest threat to Britain’s libraries isn’t the persistent advance of modern tech, however. The largest threat to the holiness of our written word may be the current Government, an establishment which seems to think that we, as a country can’t afford to hold our libraries open (they cost about £1bn a year to run), but can spend £10million on the public funeral that 60% of us believe to be pointless. That is enough to keep 10+ local libraries open, serving their communities and running at optimum efficiency all year round. I don’t mean to jump on my soapbox here, but you’ve got to admit that it’s something of a damning indictment if you’re a follower 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’m in of libraries, of books to gather facts from! Why is there not a Majesty’s library in every county town? There’s a Majesty’s jail and gallows in every one.”
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