Never come between book lovers and their books. Librarians across the country are learning this the hard way, according to Michael S. Rosenwald in The Washington Post.
“Around the country, libraries are slashing their print collections in favor of e-books, prompting battles between library systems and print purists, including not only the pre-pixel generation but digital natives who represent a sizable portion of the 1.5 billion library visits a year and prefer print for serious reading,” Rosenwald notes.
And those readers are making themselves heard.
“Some of the clashes have been heated,” Rosenwald continues. “In New York, protesters outside the city’s main branch have shouted: ‘Save the stacks! Save the stacks!’ In Northern Virginia, the Fairfax County library system chief recently mused that the Friends of the Library were no longer friends — a feud fueled by outrage over a print collection that has shrunk by more than 300,000 books since 2009.”
“We’re caught between two worlds,” said Darrell Batson, director of the Frederick County Public Libraries system in Maryland, where the print collection has fallen 20 percent since 2009. “But libraries have to evolve or die. We’re probably the classic example of Darwinism.”
Libraries have “lost their monopoly on knowledge” according to Rosenwald, and must adapt. Tighter budgets in general make digital books more appealing in that sense. Some library systems are even opening digital-only branches, like BiblioTech in San Antonio.
And libraries are more and more opening up spaces for meetings, community events and other non-printed priorities. To futurists, Rosenwald notes, this is progress.
“To library purists,” he continues, “this is nonsense,” noting emerging research that shows print provides a more immersive experience, and print is preferred by a majority of readers – even digitally native Millennials would rather read on paper.
Meanwhile the best way we can protest is to get out there and use our public libraries. Check out stacks of books, and maybe make a donation while you’re there. Public facilities like libraries are there to serve the public, so vote with your feet on this one.