The library that doesn’t give a book

Copyright: Kate Mitchell

Cartoon: Kate Mitchell

The immense popularity of e-books and tablets have resulted in bookstores vanishing from high streets up and down the country and, more generally, a steep decline in book sales. Now, it’s apparently gone even further. Florida Polytechnic University have introduced their brand new state of the art library, which houses no physical copies of books. Absolutely none – there’s not even a single copy of The Great Gatsby tucked away on a shelf somewhere.

Bibliophiles and bookworms everywhere have been dreading this day. It’s a bleak outlook for the trusty paper-and-ink books. Instead of using physical books as a primary resource, its inaugural class will be tapping away on the sleek screens of over 130,000 e-books, tablets and laptops. This follows the opening of San Antonio’s hugely popular Bibliotech, the world’s first all-digital, book-shunning library, in 2013.

The new university’s radical library has been labelled by many as a “bookless library”, yet this doesn’t really feel right. The whole concept of a “bookless library” seems hugely oxymoronic in itself, as books have arguably always been the most fundamental, central component of a library. The JB Morrell has over a million printed books. It’s hard for me to even contemplate aisles upon aisles, shelves upon shelves of dusty traditional tomes gone, to be replaced by rows of shiny Macs and iPads for your perusal. It seems to be more like a glorified Apple store than a library to me.

The university’s director of libraries, Kathryn Miller, stated that it is a “boldly relevant decision to go forward without books”. Bold, yes, but is it relevant to eschew actual books for their technological counterpart? Although many see this as progress and a big step towards some sort of futuristic digital takeover, I actually think it belongs on Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” series. I don’t think books will ever stop being relevant – in society or in a library – regardless of whether you’re studying a science or an art.

Many professors, including the distinguished professor of librarianship Kathleen McCook, have argued that the quality of experience will be lost in translation.

Frantically running around half of the library and hundreds of aisles trying to locate the last copy of that crucial text for revision is actually part of the university library experience.

Instead, people will spend their time casually flicking between some electronic journal and Facebook and a cute video of a cat on Youtube – which they could have effectively done at home. The worry is that the “intimate connection between people and the printed word” will be missing entirely in this new digitalised library.

Whilst many are voicing their opinions that the digital library is some sort of heavenly utopia of information and knowledge, what is wrong with a library housing both physical books and electronic resources?

I feel like this “bookless library” trend is simply demonstrating the strange relationship modern society has with technology; we completely fetishise the latest, innovative device (whether it’s the iPhone 6 or Windows’ surface laptops) and we become fixated.

We’re just always waiting for the next big thing and I don’t think this all-digital library is it. All I can say is that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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