The Bookless Library is a thought provoking essay by Princeton’s David A. Bell. Writing for the New Republic, Mr. Bell gives his take on the future of libraries and whether you think he is on track or not, it makes for fascinating reading.
Using the New York Public Library’s controversial Central Library plan as a jumping off point, he argues that the change to digital book collections is inevitable. He makes his case by citing the proliferation of digital devices, the continued improvement of ereader technology, and projects like the Digital Public Library of America. Of course he acknowledges that issues around copyright and library access to ebooks have yet to be resolved and that “for the time being, … millions of under-copyright and foreign-language books still remain, for all intents and purposes, available only in paper form.” However, he says that within 20-30 years that will have changed. Using the faded memory of the card catalog as an example, he questions “how many will be troubled, twenty years hence, by the disappearance of the physical books?.”
Yet he thinks that “the loss of physical libraries and of librarians would still be… “culturally tragic.” He goes on to make an argument for the library as a place for both community and contemplation. He also talks of librarians being as necessary to digital selection as they have been to developing print collections noting that “the digital landscape is wild and wooly, and it is crucial to have well-trained, well-informed librarians on hand to figure out which content to spend scarce subscription dollars on, and how to guide readers through it.”
But we are just scratching the surface of what is in this essay. Mr. Bell has obviously given serious thought to the future of libraries and brings his own experience as a researcher to bear on his observations on the “bookless library.” Admittedly, reading Mr. Bell essay will take a little longer than reading the average blog post, but agree with him or not, his ideas are well worth considering.