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