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THE HARM OF BOOKLESSNESS

January 6, 2014, 3:41 pm

bookless1

The future of libraries… actually looks like an Info Commons from 10 years ago?

You’ve probably seen the press about BiblioTech, the first bookless public library system in the country. It is being hailed as a “big success” and “the future of libraries.”

While I can appreciate the marketing tactic they are using, I actually think they are doing more harm than good. This library has been hyping the “bookless” concept for a while now. In fact, I’ve had faculty and administrators on my campus forward me renderings/press and suggest that we move in a similar direction.

My primary concern is that this might (or already has?) create false expectations of what “all libraries” should become. It’s setting a precedent. The key issue for me is funding. Why do we need a library anymore? Let’s just build computer labs– that’s what they are doing in Texas.

I could actually see this playing out like the UVA situation; people losing their jobs because they are not moving fast enough toward an all-digital environment. Imagine the ripple effect: library boards asking directors to present a “transformation to bookless” strategy and firing those who cannot deliver within a year. This will probably be a lucrative time for library consultants.

Bookless (not counting eBooks of course)

bookless2

Bookless? Really? Those kind of look likes books to me.

This also raises some old questions about what is a book? I’m guessing that patrons could access eBooks provided by this library system—so is it accurate to label it bookless? I’m reading The Diamond Age on my iPad—is that not a book?

I don’t mean to be sour toward this library. I applaud their implementation of an exciting vision. I just worry about the side effect for the rest of us. The narrative they are pushing seems to be celebrating booklessness and I just don’t see that as a positive message. I’d rather see the national media writing about the impact and value of public libraries in the 21st century, rather than prescribing the future (for all libraries) based upon information formats.

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