Sunday, June 1, 2008

Paper, electronic publishing and libraries

Library Juice cites William Powell's interesting study "Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper is Eternal", published last year at Harvard. It's a thoughtful examination of trends in the publishing world, and how electronic versions of newspapers and magazines have impacted the face of journalism.

I occasionally appear on a cable interview show hosted by our former Mayor, Dorothy Johnson. When we talk, we frequently touch on question of the future of books. I continue to believe that books will be with us for the foreseeable future -- bound, printed paper is just too good a technology to disappear. Our library got a Kindle e-book reader from Amazon to try; it's interesting, cool and OK as far as it goes, but no world beater. Were Amazon more committed to making the Kindle useful for libraries, I'd like it better, but it still wouldn't replace books.

The future of printed paper is hardly an academic question for those of us who live where the paper industry historically has dominated the economy, nor for librarians anywhere. But for those planning library buildings, it's even more pressing. Consultants tell us that while media and reference sources will become increasingly electronic, books will be important to society and libraries for the foreseeable future. The economics of books, magazines and newspapers may be quite different, but libraries will continue to need a lot of shelf space for many decades to come.

Take a look at Powell's study -- you can even print a hard copy.

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