Lost Library

stack of old booksA recent blog about beautiful libraries triggered some old memories.   As a kid, I loved going to the public library — and still do.   Our library wasn’t elaborate or grandiose, yet it seemed immense.   People spoke in hushed church-like tones.   There was that nameless scent.   The obscure Dewey Decimal System held untold secrets just waiting to be decoded.   The shelves just dripped with potential.   Yes, going to the library was a rich & wondrous experience!

But it’s an experience I fear that my son may never know…

Booked-filled libraries are becoming a thing of the past. But while virtual libraries of e-books are certainly more accessible, I don’t think they’re as appreciable.   There’s not the same sense of vastness nor do they inspire the same reverence or wonderment.   Digital books seem less tangible and substantial.   You can electronically duplicate the content, but not the context or sensual aspect, the smell, feel, heft & texture, of actual books.

I’ll admit that even in spite of my love for real, physical books, I’m not immune to the hype & allure of e-book readers.   The idea that in a matter of seconds, you can download a new book rather than ordering it and waiting days or weeks for it to arrive make devices like Amazon.com’s Kindle really attractive.   But several factors — not the least of which is the price — have held me back.   I’ve seen a Sony e-book reader and the screen was surprisingly easy on the eyes, but deep down I’m still suspicious that the e-book reader experience just wouldn’t be as satisfying or comfortable as reading a book.

But sadly, the trend of replacing actual books with digital versions is only accelerating.   In fact, Cushing Academy near Boston is one of the first schools in the U.S. to abandon traditional books in favor of virtual ones.   In lieu of a library, the academy is instead creating a media center, spending nearly $500,000 equip it with with flat-screen TVs, e-book readers, and a coffee shop.

Is it just me and this is just nostalgia rearing its head once again?   Do you think there’s anything lost in the transition from physical to digital books?   Have you considered making the move to e-books?   Are libraries all but lost as we plunge ever deeper into the cyberworld?


  1. I don't think Libraries are going anywhere anytime soon. Digital is far too expensive for public libraries to adopt en masse The school you are referring to is making a BIG mistake. No University in their right mind would do away with printed materials. The simple fact is that not everything has been scanned, nor WILL be scanned. It's impossible. I feel sorry for the students at that school, because they are going to get to College and not have a clue how to do proper research.

    My job is to buy materials for the BU libraries. I get, on average, about 200 new books a week. And that's just on our approval plan and firm order accounts with Yankee Book Peddler. That doesn't include other stuff that we search for, like Out of Print materials.

    Another huge issue is simply the cost and mess associated with ebooks. There are a variety of vendors, each with their own rights scheme, etc. Usage rights are usually for single-use only (only one person can view the material at a time). For academic books, this is usually more expensive than the paper book (which are already expensive). Multiple-use titles cost even more. I have paid over $1000 for a few titles. That's right, $1000 for one ebook. The simple matter of costs will prevent many public libraries, already straining their budgets, from upgrading.

    Anyway, just some random thoughts on a Saturday morning…

  2. I will never buy a kindle. For one have you ever heard of someone dropping a book and breaking it? No, thats silly. If you spill coffee on your book it kind of sucks because it stains it and if you dont dry it fast enough the pages might stick together. If you spill coffee on your kindle consider it over. call me old school, but I kind of enjoy the smell of a book. I like having something pysical to hold in my hand. I like turning the pages.

  3. Even though I like the idea of not wasting paper, I still really like holding a book in my hands. I like the fact that I can highlight or make notes and don't have to rely on type of electronics being charged up or available when I'm ready to read.

  4. Hey Rob–I like my new Kindle, but that doesn't mean I won't still buy books. What I do like about the Kindle vs. a regular book is that on those nights when I run out of things to read, I can buy something and be reading it in seconds. Also a much lighter load on trips where in the past I've been tempted to bring a few books. Now I can have them all together. Definitely benefits, but again, I also like the feel of a printed book, and the ability to write in it when I want to.

  5. who knows what will happen, rob? you may be right–i fear books may go the way of the stereo. but, on the other hand, catastrophes unimaginable to us may make technology the realm of only the elite–the rest of us may be yanked back to the pre-industrial age, where those of us who have established our own personal libraries, however modest, will be the only ones with anything at ALL available to read.ithink i'll hang onto those paperbacks even as they get yellow and crinkly. they still smell better than a screen. i don't know about anyone else, but i have to have a book in my hands. maybe it's because i know lots of book binders and have bound my own books, but there's something about pages between a cover that just can't be beat. and with a good story in there, too? sheer heaven.

  6. I am a little late getting in on this, but I must say that the schools my children attend still teach the value of good "old fashioned" books. Their favorite day is library day and they are always excited to show me what treasure they have brought home to read today! I do think it is sad that many children have to be forced to read daily via a book log that is sent home for parents to sign. All books they bring home from the school library requires a test afterwards. The public library requires no such thing though so we do love that! I agree that there is nothing quite like the smell of a library and books though!

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