It all began in 2000 when Kansas State University decided to wow its students by putting the engineering library on a “low-carb” and “hi-technology” diet. Last year the engineering library at Stanford University, inspired no doubt by its Kansas cousin, decided it needed a trimmer look and managed to bring its size down to only 20,000 hard copies – a phenomenal achievement, considering that it shrunk about 75% of its original collection to fit into computers.
Today, engineering students looking for a specific formula no longer have to go on a digging expedition under dusty old periodicals or voluminous books that weigh a ton. A few clicks on their computer and they can easily locate what they want from digitized books that are supported by full text search capabilities. Students at the University of Texas, San Antonio have similar good luck of being able to use their mobile devices or laptops to browse effortlessly through the extensive but virtual collection of 18,000 e-journals and 425,000 e-books.
Has the age of the bookless library finally arrived? Is this the revolutionary change that is going to define the civilization of the 21st century? Will we eventually turn into a bookless society? And, if there are no books in it, will a library still remain a library? As a lover, no worshipper, of books, I am forced to question whether the digitization of reading material is a case of glass half-full or half-empty.
There is no denying that the pros for going digital are many. Most college libraries are bursting at the seams with books, journals, encyclopedias, periodicals and reference material. Every single inch of space that can be utilized has been utilized, and then some more out of sheer desperation. Each time a new book is added to the precariously balanced stack of existing books, the entire heap threatens to come crashing down thunderously spewing wreckage of leather binding and paper all about it.
Yet another upside to going digital is that rare books can be preserved better in this fashion, since the actual book receives very little wear and tear. Besides, these books can be scanned and made available to a wider audience instead of being locked up in a vault with special access to only a limited few. With the help of the Internet, the knowledge contained in such books, or any book for that matter, won’t be restricted to a geographical location. If you can’t travel halfway across the world to visit a particular book, it can pop out from your computer screen, into your living room where you can read it at leisure – that too without having to worry about being overdue on it.
However, I take offense at the opinion that books are a waste of precious space. In defense, I quote Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association, “Books are not a waste of space, and they won’t be until a digital book can tolerate as much sand, survive a coffee spill, and have unlimited power. When that happens, there will be next to no difference between that and a book.”
So the question of today, my dear readers, is: What kind of books are in your library?