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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.

Is the Internet Replacing the Book?

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Internet is replacing the traditional printed book.  Right or wrong?


Well, it is really a complex question with a complex answer.  It is a question posed to a librarian all the time.


I sit at my desk in my library office looking at two sections of books, some old books and some new books.  To my left are empty shelves that used to hold library journals that are now all on-line.


To my right is a computer which can access billions of bytes of information, as well as the library web page which has links to all of the online systems available to the public.


The library web page is actually another branch library, just like the seven physical buildings in the county that are branches, as well as the Bookmobile that is another branch that just doesn’t stay put in one spot.


Perhaps it is better to look at the issue from the standpoint of specific items that have completely; or partially disappeared in print with the Internet.


Thinking back 46 years to my first day in a library, the U.S. Census comes to mind.  Multiple bound volumes of Census data would begin to emerge following each Census and would arrive for 5-7 years after a Census.


Actual names recorded in the Census remained private for a period of 70 years.  (Which continues to be true today)


Older Census data was on microfilm which could be borrowed or rented for use.


Now, it is all online and can be searched by keyword and found instantly.


Auto repair manuals were the bane of libraries, always being returned soiled and greasy from being in a garage with the car being fixed.  Today, we have Chilton’s Auto Repair and an Auto Repair online which allows individual pages to be accessed and printed for the specific problem.


Leaf identification projects emerged every autumn for school students, and any good library had many copies of the “Leaves” Golden Book series published in 1956.  Today, the web site “What Leaf is it?” does it all on a student’s tablet.


Several ranges of library shelving used to contain encyclopedias ranging from Colliers to Americana and Britannica.  Many are completely gone, others are in databases, and only World Book is still published in a paper format, in addition to online.


Oxford Reference Books were scholarly books that graced every library reference collection, replaced now by Oxford Online.


Literature reviews, biographies, and history were found in huge volume sets of matching books in even the smallest library ---- gone to paper recycling as databases provide the same information at a fraction of the price.


And how about college testing books that were out-of-date before they were published?  They too, have moved into the online systems.


As you can see, a lot of the items replaced by the Internet are either things used for Reference and Information searching; or things that currency is a consideration and an online product can be updated constantly.


The production of eBooks and eMagazines has certainly supplemented the traditional printed book, and the availability of tablets and convenient devices have made them easy-to-use.


Yes, people continue to check out thousands of books from the library, but they are also accessing and downloading things from the Cloud that has become another library branch.


So, we have the great old Main Library, and the branches in Toronto, Brilliant, Dillonvale, Adena, Tiltonsville, and Schiappa; and the Bookmoble running around the county; and that massive branch that just floats in the Cloud.


And the answer to my original question is yes and no, sorta and maybe.