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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Future of the Book

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 8, 2007


"So, do you think that books will go away?"


That is a difficult question for a librarian to answer, and the real answer is that no one really knows at this point.


The book in its current format is 500 years old.


It has proven to be an easy format to produce, serves its purpose, and easy to use.


The addition of graphical, audio, and video elements to the written word has caused the shift in distribution of information.


Radio and television started the movement, and the addition of computers and their capabilities has enhanced the potential shift from the printed word in book format to "something else."


I say "something else" because a central format has not emerged, and may not emerge as the end product of information.


The production of the traditional book continues to increase every year.


From 1993 to 2004, the number of books produced in the United States increased from 104,000 to 190,000.


That is showing an average 14 percent increase annually.


At the same time, the number of people in the U.S. who have read at least one book per year is decreasing; down to 57 percent by last count.


The production of books has been influenced by the "print on demand" product of recent years; produce the book only when someone wants one.


The Best Seller Lists are showing that books are listed for shorter periods of time, impacted by media blitzes and marketing.


The best selling book to remain on the lists for the longest time in the past 50 years was "Advise and Consent" by Allen Drury, which hit number 1 on October 14, 1959 and remained there for 57 consecutive weeks.


"The Source" by James Michener reached Number 1 on July 11, 1965 and ran for 43 weeks.


"Love Story" by Erich Segal was on the list for 41 weeks beginning in 1970.


Today, best selling books are on and off the list in chaotic fashion, depending on whether they make news in the media.


"The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown ran 13 weeks on the list, and then went on and off the top position some 15 times.


Statistics show that public libraries are busier than ever and continue to circulate lots of books.


At the same time, we find that the "under 30" age group obtains their information from more non-print sources than older generations.


E-Books, books-on-CD, and the Internet in general are all competing with print books for their place in today's information age.


Perhaps the biggest change is an electronic book developed by a network of people, called a "Wiki."


Instead of the printed book, developed and edited and completed by printing, a networked book is a constantly evolving entity with contributions from many.


The answer to the future of the book may be financial.  It remains difficult for an author to "make money" without the printed book.


Free information via the Internet has been replaced with paid subscriptions and contracts for databases.


So, the answer about the future of books?  The answer is that we don't know.