Libraries in the Age of iPads

If everyone owned an iPad would we need libraries?  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the demolition of libraries, but with the advent of the internet and ebooks talk about the death of newspapers, magazines and books get more common every year.  If we don’t need those physical objects anymore, why do we need a building and institution to maintain them?  Think about it.  If books, magazines and newspapers disappear from our houses and move into Kindles, Nooks, and iPads, why would we go to the library?  Why would we go to bookstores, new or used? 

Modern libraries are about more than books, patrons also check out movies, audiobooks, music, and periodicals.  But all of those media types are now available on the iPad.  I know older people who grew up with libraries will immediate protest, but remember, us older folk are a dying breed and the up and coming generations are gadget afflicted.

Libraries used to be storehouses of knowledge and librarians worked to collect and preserve the printed word.  That’s still true of academic libraries, but public libraries have moved into an era of supplying what their patrons want, so as soon as a book is ignored for a specific period of time, it gets jettisoned from the collection.  Most people think of libraries as free books, free movies, free music albums, and free magazines and newspapers.  I think a lot of people think we should have libraries to provide a cultural outlet for the poor.  But the internet provides more free stuff to read and watch.

The death of libraries is pretty much unthinkable now, but don’t be surprise when city bean counters start making suggestions about closing them.  I grew up  loving libraries, and even worked in public and academic libraries.  They don’t seem as crowded with patrons as they used be.  I hardly go to the library anymore myself, not since the internet.  I saw the video of Steve Jobs presenting the iPad and showing off its ebook features and it struck me that devices like the iPad will be the library of the future.  When I was growing up futurists would talk about having a handheld device with the Library of Congress in it.  We’re getting spookily close, aren’t we?

The book is evolving too.  When it escapes the limitation of the page, adding multimedia and hypertext the book will no longer fit on a library shelf.  Printed books, newspapers and magazines might become extinct, but imagine what will replace them.  There is no reason to make a distinction between newspapers and magazines anymore.  That might become true for books and novels too.  Newspapers used to be frequently published information printed on cheap paper.  Magazines and journals had longer periods between publication and were printed on better paper, suitable for long term storage in libraries. 

The electronic page is not limited by time, paper quality or cost of printing.  Newspapers and magazines use to be text plus photographs.  Electronic publication is text plus photographs, video, sound recording, animation and other multimedia.  Go look at the iPad video and tell me if kids will even want to go to the library or read books and magazines.  And what about you?


I like the name iPad, just one vowel different from the iPod, but many of my friends have expressed a dislike for the name, and some of my women friends tell me the name brings up bad connotations with them.  I think Steve Jobs should have named it the iLibrary.

JWH – 1/28/10

12 thoughts on “Libraries in the Age of iPads”

    1. John, I don’t expect the iPad to become the world standard either. I expect HP, Sony, Toshiba, Asus, Acer and all the others PC makers to come up with competing solutions that are cheaper and more compatible with Windows.

      I’ve often wished I could hold my LCD display in my lap and read the web while sitting in my La-Z-Boy. I’ve had a number of ebook readers over the years but they were only good for fiction. Having a high rez OLED touchscreen to hold in the lap is a good solution for now. I expect future tech will improve on the display technology too. Future iPads will need to be shatterproof. I’ve seen a lot of smashed iPhone screens.

      The iPad isn’t that revolutionary. It’s just a computer for lazy butts who want to read and surf the web while sitting in a comfortable chair, lying in the bed or reclined on the couch.

  1. I have an iTouch, and since many of the iPad’s features are similar, I’ll wait for the next generation to come out. (Also want to see them include Flash and apps for Hulu and NetFlix.)
    I did blog about the eReader feature today. I think it will have a big impact on books/

    1. I’m wondering what watching movies and tv shows will be like while holding the screen in my lap? Steve Jobs must hate Flash because he wanted Quicktime to be the standard everyone uses. He needs to give up, even though the latest Quicktime looks fantastic embedded into a web page.

      I’m betting HP, Asus, Acer, MSI or other manufacturers will quickly compete with the iPad and give us everything we want. Not including Flash was insane because even though I like the iPod touch, I hate looking at web pages on its small screen. Now the iPad is perfect for web page surfing, but no Flash ruins the experience. Also, its a no brainer that people will want a webcam with devices like the iPad. Why did they leave it out?

  2. Interesting post. The iPad is an interesting tool for information access and we’ll see what happens.

    However, I’m not sure what libraries you are going to, but library use has skyrocketed since the mid nineties, and absolutely exploded in the last couple of years.

    Also, from what I understand HTML5 will make flash irrelevant. Take a look at that when you get a chance, when it starts to be widely used I think we’ll see some interesting changes.

    But I’m enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work!

    1. I have been researching HTML5 and was going to work on a blog post today about it and ePUB. I’m on the side of open standards, which in the long run will undercut the glitz of Apple products.

      My take on library use are just personal observations at the public and university library I visit. I’m glad to hear they are doing well, but I went and read some stats, and they seem to be doing well for computers, video and audio, and less so for books. But if access to computers and media get cheaper that could change.

    1. At one time I wanted to get my MLS degree and become a librarian. I regret not going into library science more in recent years because libraries have really embraced technology in interesting ways. I think there will always be libraries, but I’m not sure if they will look like they do now. They may have just as many patrons, but librarians might not meet their patrons face to face.

      With the internet and digital copies of collections, local libraries are less important, except for special collections. I’m looking forward to seeing special collections put on the web.

  3. I for one will keep going to libraries and bookstores for the same reason I go now…the act of reading for me includes the tangible aspect of holding book in hand, and that need isn’t met by holding a laptop or a smaller electronic device. The joy of reading is also about the hunt in the bookstore for either that specific book that you are looking for or something you just stumble across. That will never be repeated with any kind of e-reading device.

    “They don’t seem as crowded with patrons as they used be”. I’m glad you used the word “seem”, because my experience is completely the opposite. We have branch libraries all over the place and every time I am there the parking lot is full. Now granted, some of that fullness has to do with libraries having computers with free internet access, but there are always people sitting around reading, walking the aisles, and the hold shelves are always crammed full of books people have ordered online to pick up later. In this day of being more frugal I see library use increasing and you can certainly see this happen on so many book bloggers sites as many frequently make use of the library.

    Would it surprise me if the government suddenly decided to save the money and shut them down? No, but I have a feeling the government is somehow making money on them somehow (I’m cynical) and thus they will stay around for quite awhile longer.

  4. I worked at a public library in the middle 1970s and then an academic library in the early 1980s. It seemed back then the libraries were swarming with people. In those days high school kids and college kids were required to write papers and get X number library sources. We were swamped. We were constantly reshelving bound periodicals. Now I go back to the periodicals department where I used to work and they have no staff and it’s all self-serve and as quiet as a morgue. Ditto for the microforms department. It doesn’t even seem like library work is required anymore.

    1. It is interesting that you talk about library work because it reminds me of a conversation I had with my wife the other day. One of the two branch libraries in my town, best considered a suburb of Greater Kansas City, seems like it always has a TON of workers. I cannot imagine that they all get paid, if so, I’m in the wrong racket and public libraries are where the money is at. I’m sure all libraries aren’t like this, but it is quite the mystery why this particular library seems to be staffed for a book frenzy no matter what time of day or night you are in there.

      Libraries for research probably are seeing great declines because of the ease with which to do research online. I just haven’t seen our local public libraries as places to borrow fiction and DVDs diminishing.

  5. I suppose physical print is doomed, but then so am I. Until I go, I will read books and newspapers in their literal as opposed to cyberspace form. And I will continue to buy my grandchildren books every time they come to visit, and will never succumb to any pleadings that grandpa “get with it” and buy them Kindles or Nooks.
    You might (or might not) be interested in taking a look at

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