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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, September 11, 2016

The future of books in our society is a common topic presented to librarians, and I will be the first to admit that my past predictions regarding the future of books and libraries have sometimes missed reality.


I still remember reading about the fellow who predicted in 1949 that within a decade all new houses would have a mini-helipad for everyone’s mini-helicopter that would replace cars.


I have watched all the information formats that have come and gone in libraries over the years from 8mm and 16mm films to long-playing vinyl records, not to forget beta videos and now VCR videocassettes.


Slides and filmstrips and the carousel slide projector are now sitting in a back room on the same shelf as the Gaylord Book Charger.  I do confess with keeping my card sorter on the wall of my office just in case someone appears with a stack of 3 x 5 cards that need put-in-order.


The familiar paper formatted bound book made its appearance in the Middle Ages in a bound format, although the use of paper or something that could contain writing goes back centuries.


Early settlers to Ohio carefully carried precious books wrapped in waxed paper to their new homes and established libraries to share books among the communities.


By the 19th Century, the production of books through mechanization made the print book more common in our society, and organized libraries began to appear across the nation.


Today, the paper book is common in our society; and they are hardly considered a “precious item” like those early settlers did coming across the Frontier.


The big change to electronic formats and eBooks started only 23 years ago when an author named Peter James introduced his new book on two floppy discs.


Project Gutenberg has been introducing classic titles online since the 1970s, and early eBook devices such as Palm Pilot, Microsoft Reader, and Sony Reader tested the market interest in something other than the “book.”


The technical breakthrough came between 2007-2010 with the introduction of the first practical eBook devices ranging from Kindle to Nook and iPad.


Surveys have found that this year some 25% of the public owns some type of eBook device and most have used it to read a book.


Pew Research Center found that after growing for several years, the use of eBooks seems to have stabilized.  Their other finding matches what we know from library usage: some people love eBooks, some people hate eBooks, and some people utilize both eBook format and the old-fashioned “book.”


The publishing world demonstrated a mixture of formats and market movements.  There were 571 million print books produced in 2015, an all-time high.


The new title in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” sold 95% of its titles in print book format, while only 5% were sold in eBook format.


Public libraries continue to adjust to the public demand for both online sources as well as print media as shown by the opening of the newly remodeled Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main Branch which curated its book collection from 1 million books to 300,000 in that location.


Paper books continue to circulate from public libraries, but at a rate that is stable from year to year.


I think that the trend from paper books to online sources is stronger in the area of “reference books,” many of which have discontinued publication around 2005.  Information in which the currency is critical is better suited online.


Most libraries are dismantling their reference collections in favor of online sources. 


Our library system also has a myriad of e-resources for the public, from eBooks for download, to movies for download, eBooks for children, eMagazines, as well as online databases for searching with your library card.


Yes, we still have books and lots of new books at that!


At a recent library meeting, a discussion took place that several libraries were discontinuing books sales due to declining interest.  We also discussed the closure of book repair binderies in recent years.


Maybe people are finding that they don’t need to “maintain” the quantity of books at home with all the alternative sources.


I am reminded of a story from years ago, when one librarian opened the delivery door to their library to find a pick-up truck backed up to the door in a rain storm.  He began shoveling a bed-full of wet books into the garage and said, “We had a garage sale, and these are the book that were left after the sale.  Thought the library would want them.”


Guess not everyone felt that books are precious.