v.22 #2 – Little Red Herrings: Living on the Fringe

by Mark Y. Herring (Dean of Library Services, Dacus Library, Winthrop University)

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Just when you thought the news could not get any worse for libraries, a new twist emerges on an old theme. When I saw the headline, I couldn’t help clicking: “Books Are Becoming the Fringe Media.” In a post dated 20 February of this year, Kevin Kelleher (http://tinyurl.com/ylqya7h) opines that books are, or are becoming, the new fringe media. People just aren’t reading them anymore, and certainly no one wants to digest 300 pages of text. No siree, this is a slam-bam generation. We want it now, we want it fast, and we want everything you need to know in 140-characters or less. This came as somewhat depressing news to me, an over 50-something. Not only am I on the downside of everything, it turns out that my interests, too, are fringe-worthy. Forty years ago if you intimated I wasn’t fringe, or living on the fringe, or outside the mainstream, I would have asked you to step outside, assuming I wasn’t at a peace rally. Now it appears that yesterday’s radical animosities are today’s conservative tendencies. What a brave new world in which we live!

Now, I don’t doubt the assertions of the blogposter, or Webcaster, or podundit, or whatever we call them these days. I can see the writing on the wall, and what’s more, I can read it. Books are going the way of all flesh, not so much because we hate them, or because we have little use for them, or because they have become démodé. We’re dispensing with them because this is a brave new world, and we have gadgets for that sort of thing now. Print is soooo-oh-soooo yesterday. Furthermore, it’s not even — OMGYG2BK — green. We’ve known for the last, say, twenty-five years that reading is in decline. Studies done by just about everyone (but especially the National Endowment for the Humanities) show that all sorts of reading are on their way down: newspapers, books (fiction or nonfiction), plays, and short stories. In fact, you name the reading material, and you can be fairly certain it’s no longer being read at all, or not like it used to be. Reports of the millions and millions of Kindle buyers (soon to be eclipsed, perhaps by iPads if the name or battery issue doesn’t sink sales before they begin) hint, perhaps, that the picture is not so bleak. Ah, but we know that the mean age of those Kindle readers is, well, the fifty-something crowd who carry the water for all readers these days. The twenty-something crowd is reading virtually (pun intended) not at all, or slightly more than five minutes a day.

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