Monday, January 7, 2013

Is the book dead or not?

The old library. Good enough for me.
In my small town, the corner on Main Street where the library sits is wrapped in fabric fencing, shielding from view a major construction project to expand the building.

I suppose it's going to resemble the library in Darien, Connecticut, not too many miles away, which is an impressive, sprawling structure.

As I drove by the construction my taxes are funding I wondered: Why are they doing this if the paper book is dead? Are libraries, like any good bureaucracy, reinventing themselves to stay alive?

They're certainly trying. The State of Connecticut is pouring millions into library renovations.

Two articles in The Wall Street Journal get at this matter from two different angles.

Peter Mandel, a children's book author, has noticed how his library has morphed into something digital.
Remember library books? Prior to the iPad and Kindle, readers used to pore over these paper and cardboard rectangles, possibly savoring their musty smell, their cover art and typefaces. 
But take a peek around your local library. You'll see oceans of DVDs, CDs, copy machines and computer terminals, with customers queued up to take their turn with all this shared technology. Somewhere in the background—or more than likely exiled to the basement—are the stacks for book-browsing that we used to know.
Nicholas Carr, on the other hand, tells us paper book lovers not to worry.
Half a decade into the e-book revolution, though, the prognosis for traditional books is suddenly looking brighter. Hardcover books are displaying surprising resiliency. The growth in e-book sales is slowing markedly. And purchases of e-readers are actually shrinking, as consumers opt instead for multipurpose tablets. It may be that e-books, rather than replacing printed books, will ultimately serve a role more like that of audio books—a complement to traditional reading, not a substitute.

How attached are Americans to old-fashioned books? Just look at the results of a Pew Research Center survey released last month. The report showed that the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose modestly over the past year, from 16% to 23%. But it also revealed that fully 89% of regular book readers said that they had read at least one printed book during the preceding 12 months. Only 30% reported reading even a single e-book in the past year.
Everything old is new again. So will DVDs or books fill my new library?

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