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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 Paper Book and Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 09, 2011

Some people are predicting that the paper book will never reach 500 years of age.

 

Pages stitched between rectangular paste boards started appearing in the 1400s as the printing press was developed to make information more available to people.

 

Early books were called “codex” from the word code, a name used for early books.

 

With technology, some are suggesting that the “book” as we know it is about to the end of its lifespan.

 

The demise of the book has been discussed for the past century as each new form of media appears.

 

35mm motion picture reels were supposed to eliminate the book, as we would all read the pages on large screens.

 

Microfilm and microfiche would be carried in our pocket, with a hand-held reader to magnify the film for the human eye.

 

Today, the traditional book is being challenged by the e-book format, and I must admit that e-books are the most usable format introduced in years, and may impact the production of the paper book.

 

The Colorado State Library sponsored a survey of professionals in the publishing industry, asking for opinions about the future of the book.

 

Participants came from all over the world, and 2/3 of the responses said that the book will never completely disappear.

 

What respondents did predict was that electronic sources will and are impacting textbooks, books with immediate information, and files of information research.

 

This is already apparent in libraries where reference collections and journal collections are making the shift to online collections and databases.

 

E-books are the greatest impact on the traditional paperbound book, as the current generation of e-books is more user-friendly than the early versions.

 

Screens are as clear as a printed page, and movement through the “pages” online are much simpler, like turning the page of a paper book.

 

The statistics for the use of e-books seem to be unclear, although some companies report sales to have exceeded hardcover books.

 

Reports last fall that the sales of children’s books had declined now appear to be incorrect, and were based on an over-zealous reporter not understanding the numbers.

 

I continue to say that the traditional book will always have the advantage of not needing equipment beyond a human brain to work.

 

A dead battery, no power, a broken screen, or download issues will always cause a problem with an e-book.

 

An e-book wins when considering size and weight against a book, or the ability to massage the information into other formats or arrangements to meet the needs of the user.

 

I think various formats will continue to be found in the world as people try the new formats before deciding their favorite.

 

Libraries are building e-book collections in cooperative ventures, and can serve as the public access to information.

 

I still feel that libraries will be part of our social fabric for many years to come, as the format of the media changes and the tools that we can use become more abundant.

 

The skills of librarians for book research can be used in the electronic format just as well.

 

An e-book device will never have the smell of a well-seasoned leather-bound book.