Traditional libraries destiny in a digitized world
⌛ Reading time: 8 minutes
In a world that moves inexorably towards the digitization of almost everything in life, traditional libraries are expected to have not place in tomorrow's society. Is this true? Could traditional libraries disappear as we know it today in a futuristic society?
Much has been written (maybe not that much
**:)** ) about traditional libraries vs digital ones. The mere purpose of this article is to summarize some key aspects about this matter as well as give my personal point of view as an avid reader and lover of good old hardcover books and digital ones.
Why to bother?
This is one of the questions many people tend to ask themselves about the fact that traditional libraries could disappear in a near future being replaced by digital ones. Many people think that this is the normal process in a world where almost everything is on its way to be digitized. This may be really true but at the same time, this does not imply that something that is not digitized should be completely removed.
Good old hardcover books have been with humanity since old days. What we know now as traditional books became popular after the appearance of the Gutenberg printing press and the first widely distributed book was precisely the Gutenberg Bible. However the oldest printed book in history is “The Diamond Sutra”, printed on May 11, 868, in China; 600 years before the Gutenberg Bible came to life.
Fig 1. *“The Diamond Sutra”, the oldest printed book that is preserved today (https://diamond-sutra.com)*
Through the years, printed books have evolved along with the technology that created them to become a high valuable asset regarding the fact of storing knowledge and distributing it. From difficult ways to print a great book to fast and inexpensive ways to print an entire arsenal in a matter of hours and distributing it.
Fig 2. The evolution of books from papyrus to electronic texts (https://apps.lib.umich.edu)
The fact here is that evolution is unstoppable, no matter what and we cannot stop it for sure. Over the past years the introduction of technology in different spheres of life as well as the appearance of the Internet, have made possible some achievements that otherwise could never have been achieved. Traditional libraries have not been able to escape this “new wave” and most of them have been replaced by digital ones, others have been in the need to reinvent themselves and tried to adapt the best way they can to this digital era trying to avoid the oblivion and falling into disuse with the consequent total disappearance from our lives.
Digital libraries, digital books (ebooks), digital catalogs...all of this sounds good enough not to notice. Traditional books vs electronic ones have been a comparison scheme in many online forums, discussion boards and even from the experts points of views, there have been discussions regarding this issue. The fact here is that traditional libraries have been with us for a very long time and many people think that it is time to move on and embrace digital ones as a full replacement.
There are many advantages of digital libraries over traditional ones: you can find a book (even a rare one, collector´s edition, etc...) from the comfort of your home, just by accessing the Internet, you can buy it and get it delivered to your home in just few days or you can pay just to read online the pages you need and not for the access to the entire book, saving money this way...Digital mechanisms are here to stay and improve our life!
According to The British Council website: “There are an estimated 315,000 public libraries in the world, 73 per cent of them in developing and transitioning countries”. So many libraries we have isn´t? We need to think that that digitization is here to allow that huge amount of information to reach faster and cheaper a wide range of people around the world and not to replace at all the places containing that information...Is been said that traditional libraries need to transform themselves and embrace the digital “thing”...I AGREE....However, in one side we have the practical aspect of this matter but sometimes we need to think in other aspects as well.
Let´s take a look at one example: the social aspect of traditional and public libraries. Going to a public library gives you the possibility to share physical space with other people. Socializing has been the catalyst that has propelled the human race to what it is today. The human being is a social being par excellence....and traditional libraries are good places to meet other people with the same interests that you have. Many people have found even the love of their lives in such places...You can find people in digital places, yes, and you can even socialize, but at the end, the need for a close encounter becomes latent and the virtual space ends up giving space to the physical one...Digital libraries can´t beat traditional ones in this aspect.
Other aspect where digital libraries can´t replace traditional ones it is in the sentimental aspect. Many people still believe in that feeling that reading a physical book can bring to you. Sometimes the smell, the touch, the brightness, the contrast, the sensation of leafing through a book with your own hands makes reading an experience that goes beyond known dimensions and limits. Reading a book can be pleasant, no matter if it is digital or physical, but there is no doubt that physical form has unmatched nuances that make the experience of reading and learning more welcoming and even more personal.
A survey conducted by Pew Research Center about the books format people preferred to read back in 2016 yielded the following results:
Fig 3. Book Reading 2016 according to Pew Research Center (https://www.pewresearch.org)
...showing that a growing share of Americans are reading e-books, but print books remain much more popular than books in digital formats.
Then again in 2019 the same research center conducted nother survey asking the same questions and this was the result:
Fig 4. Book Reading 2019 according to Pew Research Center (https://www.pewresearch.org)
...showing that still a big percent of Americans prefer to read printed books than digital ones. 3 years passed and the reading technology improved (including the rise of audiobooks) but the acceptance on reading digital not raised at all ... why?
Maybe is because we still refuse to get rid of old ways, maybe is the social aspect where we find it useful somehow to share the same space and interests with other people and socialize when reading or could be even the sentimental one where we feel comfortable in the comfort and privacy of our home when reading a good old hardcover book, borrowed from a library or even bought from a bookstore.
People still have their own private small libraries at home while search the Internet looking for content they need....if you have the Internet at your disposal then why to have a “dusty” library at home? You tell me....
Pacific Standard Magazine published a research article back in 2017 explaining why home libraries (traditional libraries) provide huge educational advantage in today´s world. After examining statistics from 27 nations, they concluded that “A child from a family rich in books is 19 percentage points more likely to complete university than a comparable child growing up without a home library.” While other researchers have found that reading digitized content (being online or not) can effectively reduce the absorption of content by the brain due to the physical aspect of the reading since brightness, contrast and even distractions (when online) cause less attention to be paid to what is read.
Giving these pieces of information...should we bother on traditional libraries destiny...or not?
Yes...many people who know me, and they know i am a techie guy, could think that i prefer reading digitized content over printed books and yes i prefer reading that way when i am looking for technological content and need to find quickly the piece of information that could help me solve a given situation but when i want to spoil myself with a good piece of adventure story, sci-fi, mystery or drama i undoubtedly return to my old loved printed books. Nothing like ink and paper to give you a break from bits and bytes!
My take is that traditional libraries will not disappear at all but they will evolve to a more advanced form containing the best of both worlds: hybrid libraries...so everyone will be happy finally.
It is a matter of taste and choice but i am sure many of you, dear readers, will agree with me that we need a combo of the past and the present to make sure of a nice future for all of us, not only regarding the way we access the information we need or want but for everything else.
Final thoughts...by now
Denying the evolution of traditional libraries into a more advanced form it is something not plausible or feasible: it is the way the world develops. What would ancient manuscript writers have thought when told that the printing press would replace them? The best way i can imagine they thought is: well, let's learn to handle that printing press and bring the best of both worlds to secure a better future.
More than 5 centuries later, time proved that they were not wrong at all...it is time for a new jump but always keeping the old ways!
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