Many people regarded the September 2009 headline, “Cushing Academy Goes Bookless” as more of a curiosity than a serious trend. The way Cushing Headmaster James Tracy put it, “Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we’re building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books.”
But underlying this blip on the radar screen lies a groundswell of innovation that promises a revolution in books. The book industry along with authors, publishers, and the online giants: Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yahoo are still arguing over the rights conveyed to each member of the value chain. Consumers, however, are simply looking for faster, cheaper, quicker way to access books and information.
Beyond the issues of digital rights an entire new industry is emerging around interface devices with electronic book readers gaining tremendous market share. Amazon’s Kindle broke the ice in 2006 and is now joined by Sony, LG, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and others. 2009 saw the price of bookreaders drop by 50% to under $200. 2010 will see a similar plummet with some being offered for under $100. In less than 5 years bookreaders will cost less than $20 and become ubiquitous. The result will be a very chaotic downward spiral for the ink-on-paper publishing world.
Books have long created an impressive backdrop
for library activities, but those days are numbered
In spite of the dwindling interest in books as a physical object, books themselves will flourish. The demand for well-produced literary works will continue to grow, but will transition in style and form as technology creates new ways for people to interact with authors and experts in the field.
Despite the objections of book lovers, the days of wandering through the stacks are coming to an end.
As the popularity of books in the printed form begins to dwindle, libraries will be faced with rethinking their role and the way they interact with their user constituency. Their purpose will still revolve around being a point of access for information, but will evolve into a center of culture, a media archive for the community, and a place where great ideas can spring to life.
Even with expanded services through the web, their greatest value will lie in their sense of place. They will remain a place where questions get answered but will also become a gathering place for people to meet people and teams are able to plan, network, and interact with the information before them.
Future libraries will become fluid structures for causing positive human collisions. Next generation tools and equipment will be a source of intellectual spontaneity, giving people the ability to produce audio, video, graphic, and other sensory works as a way to breathe life into their thinking.
The ultimate “library of the future” will be the home for highly relevant informational experiences, where great ideas are born, and people have access to the tools and facilities to act on their ideas.
- In less than 20 years, the majority of libraries will no longer have traditional printed books in them.
- Since digital libraries have a much smaller labor component, the demand for traditionally trained librarians will drop over the next 20 years to less than half of what it is today.
Along with the transformation of libraries will come a great opportunity to help them reinvent themselves. The technology component will continue to increase and support for the technology will create many new openings.