Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Will libraries die?

Note: The opinions in this post are mine alone, and contain generalizations about libraries from a non-librarian. Abby (a librarian) and John (not) probably don’t share them. And I might not agree with them tomorrow. Go easy on me.

Every profession has its party question–the one strangers ask when they find out what you do. Doctors get “What about those insurance companies?” My wife, a novelist, gets “Are you published?”* My question is “Are books going to die? Are libraries going to die?”

Meh. I’m not too afraid. I don’t see the perfect ebook arriving any time soon, and all the the book lovers and libraries hauling their collections to the dumpster. A thousand interesting, transformative things are happening to books and to libraries, but death-by-ebook seems very far off.

But then it hit me. To me, libraries are about books. But libraries today are about much more, with CDs and DVDs high on the list**. Those media ARE dying, being replaced by digital downloads. In my own life, I’ve almost stopped buying CDs, and recently my wife and I have seriosuly cut back on DVD rentals. We get both on iTunes now.***

I’m not taking every to the dumpster yet, but CD and DVD racks no longer have a central place in our living room. This stuff is on the way out. Technological adoption, habit and the fact that library borrowing is free will slow things down, but the trend is clear. Books are better than ebooks, even if you have to go to the library to get them. CDs and DVDs aren’t.

So, let’s all stop imagining a library without books, and imagine a library without CDs and DVDs. Let’s imagine a library with books, and hope for one with more of them. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m excited by that prospect.

*She is. Both she and my friend Kevin Shay have discovered another common question. When people hear they write novels, an amazing number of people are moved to ask “fiction?”
**Also internet access and serials. To keep this post short, I won’t get into them, although I think both are on the same downward escalator as CDs and DVDs.
***We watch on my laptop. We don’t own a TV. I know, smell us.

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