Whether the advent of eBooks heralds the end of print books or not, it certainly seems that it will lead to the demise of libraries as we know them. The bookless library is increasing a reality, staring in places meant to be the repository of knowledge, university libraries, and gaining ground outside academic grounds.
The New York Public Library is implementing its plan to move many of its books away from its main branch into offsite storage with 24-hour advance request required. Yet it is not the first library to do so. Opening the move was Kansas State University’s engineering school, which went bookless 12 years ago. The University of Texas at San Antonio ditched print for e-books and e-journals in 2010. Stanford University’s engineering school pruned 85 percent of its books last year. Drexel University opened a new library just last month with hardly a single print book – just rows and rows of computers. And Cornell recently announced a similar initiative.
From academic libraries, the trend is now spreading to public libraries. Before New York, in order to successfully abide a budget crunch, the Balboa Branch library in Newport Beach, California, is implementing a plan to strip its original library of most of if not all its 35,000 books and a few librarians as well. The 50-year-old library will become a de facto community center — a place where citizens can gather, chat without fear of being shushed by a stern librarian, and surf the web. Yet, patrons really wanting a book can still get one. All they have to do is march up to a voice-activated electronic kiosk; speak with a librarian at one of the city’s three other branches; order it and wait by the library’s traditional fireplace for it to be dropped off at a locker on site, though it might be wiser to go home and come back the next day.
According to a Broward County (FL.) library employee, the future of library holding physical books seems gloomy. Commenting on a post about bookless libraries, he points at the main reasons virtual libraries will increasingly replace print books libraries
“1 – Our budgets are not enough to purchase both dead tree books and eBooks. We choose to increase the number of eBook titles available to customers (as well as other digital resources) and those dollars come from the physical book/item collection. This includes fewer CDs (Freegal replaces) and potentially DVDs soon.
2 – Staffing budgets are down everywhere. In Broward County Library our virtual reference and digital resources are staffed by two people. Just to process new physical materials it takes four people. It is not hard to see where the trend is heading.
Will there be physical books in libraries? Yes for the foreseeable future. But they will be more for older or poorer customers who do not have access any other way to old materials. New materials will not be available in the end.
Right now we do more than 60% of all circulation is Audio Visual materials (DVD, CD, etc) and customers using the physical building more for the computer access or bringing their own laptops in to access WiFi etc.
Less than 60% of all customers walking into the building actually check something out, and as above less than 40% of that is a physical book. “
And since money is still what rules the world, whether we like it of not, bookless libraries are what the future holds for the majority of us who are not scholars interested in checking watermarks and other specialized particularities of print books.