I often get asked what I think about books. Not just what book I’m reading or why I like studying literature, but what the future of the format of the book is. Of course, I strongly believe the paper book is not going anywhere soon, but this then leads to questions of whether I’m a luddite, etc. etc.
[Disclaimer: I hate reading books electronically, even on an e-reader; there’s something about it that makes me feel as if I’m not retaining the information the same way and I like the tactile experience of a book rather than a screen. Given I read about 800 pages a week, I still don’t find the main claim that it’s easier to tote around convincing.]
What is more interesting to me is how people share or use books. I recently went to my hometown library to pick up some books I wanted to read and found that on a Wednesday at 4pm, it was bustling. The parking lot was full, people waiting for spots to show up.People sat at the tables in the main hall working, people browsing the stacks, and numerous others using the computers. I didn’t even check out the cafe since I was in a hurry to grab a few things.
Whatever the format of books, it seems people are actively using their local libraries and the data seems to support that. Unfortunately libraries are also some of the worst hit by budget cuts, which seems to hurt the people who need them the most–whether it be elementary students, the unemployed, or just the average person who wants to read.
I’ve been used to using university libraries which are more of the hulking beast variety–the Library of Congress cataloging system does not allow for much browsing and the vast vaults of books either underground or towering upstairs makes it easy to get lost–although I do enjoy the movable shelves and turning them to reveal a new passage.
However, in order to meet somewhere in between, there seem to be a lot of new types of libraries popping up. In New York City, there are both the pay phones which have been converted to lending libraries and the Little Free Library, which originally started in Wisconsin. These seem more like the coffee house varieties, in which for every book you take, you leave one for others. Hopefully, these work better than the ones I used to see in coffee houses or hostels, where there was just a random assortment of tattered books, usually mostly made up of bad sci-fi or pseudo-philosophy/manifestos. If nothing else, they seem to encourage people to read and to share with their communities.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some people converted a church into a library in the Netherlands, which not only repurposes beautiful architecture into a public space, it encourages people to once again read more and perpetuates the culture of the paper book.
I still have not gotten to a definite answer about the fate of books, but given the interest in creating libraries and sharing actual books, it seems hard to believe that they are going anywhere.