Is There a Future for Public Libraries? How Will They Evolve As E-Books Eclipse the Paper Book?

In the battle between traditional books and E-books, many would say traditional books are on the path to retreat. While Kindles and Kobos provide a simple, compact, technological alternative to the burden and clutter of weighty paper tomes, it may be hard to argue in favour of the traditional book. E-books and E-readers make accessing literature as simple and convenient as the click of a mouse. Compare that to the tactile experience of traveling to a book store or library, searching bodily for a volume and physically carrying it to and fro.

But do the boons of the changing literary technology render the traditional book and it’s once ubiquitous community outlet – the library, obsolete?

To me, a frequent library patron and lover of books, it would be a crying shame to close the communities’ libraries. In the matter of the physical book versus the electronic version, it can be a matter of personal preference. Some prefer to collect and build up their bookshelves, some just like the feel of thumbing the pages, for others it goes further involving nostalgia and childhood memories. But is the practicality of housing, transporting and manufacturing the paper book becoming simply not worth it?

I could go on about the virtues of the paper book and how I believe enthusiasts like myself will ensure they never completely fade away. But the library issue is about more than paper vs click. Many would argue that as long as people are reading, what matters the format? E-books are cheaper, easier on the environment, available at a click. True, all true. But let’s get back to libraries.

If E-books, and the receding popularity of reading in its traditional sense are to blame for the closure of libraries then the libraries must evolve. And many are. Many libraries across the modern world are digitizing their collections. Unfortunately government cuts in funding to public libraries have been increasing steadily since the 1990s. Ironically, this makes it difficult for libraries to modernize, making themselves more accessible to today’s public.

Many of you might be thinking back on the last time you set foot in a public library. Was it that research paper in 4th year? Yes, library attendance is going down. But for a large segment of the population it provides a much needed haven. For years libraries have been providing a bridge over the digital divide, providing computer and internet access freely to the public. Providing a warm place to go, learn and feel connected is a vital service our community needs.

So all that to pose the question:

Do you see an evolution or an extinction of the world’s public libraries?