Clear away the shelves, e-books are here to stay. (Photo Credit: CC BY-ND/Herman Yung/DoobyBrain.com)

First Century B.C. Roman philosopher Cicero wrote that “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” While libraries will continue to exist for as long as humanity endures, the time is fast-approaching when they will no longer resemble the storehouses of knowledge enjoyed by Cicero. According to the Los Angeles Times, yet another library – the Newport Beach Public Library in Newport Beach, Calif. – is moving toward abandoning books entirely and replacing them with e-books.

Other features of bookless library would not change

As the cost of producing printed books is becoming prohibitively expensive – and market share for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook continues to skyrocket – the prospect of book-free libraries has become much more attractive on the public and collegiate levels. The publisher, marketing, printing, pre-production, wholesaler, author royalty and retailer price considerations all demand a piece of the pie in the traditional book publishing market. E-books are much less complicated and less costly to produce.

The Newport Beach Public Library will resemble a traditional library upon entry, but that’s where the resemblance will end. The same informational kiosk will be located up front, but instead of an attendant there will be a computer. The bookshelves will be gone, which is where the reality of the library of the future sets in. Wireless Internet access will enable patrons to read via e-book readers and quiet study space will be maintained.

In the event that print books are required, patrons can order them via kiosk software. After a few days, books are delivered to a locker for pickup, in a manner resembling the delivery of DVDs and Blu-ray discs from Netflix via postal mail.

Changing economies, changing readers

College libraries like those at the University of Texas in San Antonio and Stanford University in California have proven to be ahead of the curve when it comes to the bookless library. The former university’s engineering and technology library replaced print books with more than 425,000 e-books and 18,000 e-journal subscriptions, opening up more room for group study in the library. At Stanford, the process has been more gradual; a quarter of its 80,000 books were replaced as of summer 2010.

The shift toward the book-free library has been aimed at keeping pace with the changing needs of patrons. Numerous studies conducted at the Newport Beach Public Library found that more patrons came to the library to use the Wi-Fi connection and study in a quiet space rather than to check out books. Thus, the idea of the Netflix-style delivery system was born.
Not all staff at the library agree with the change, though.

“That caused me the most angst,” said Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff, who helped develop the library’s bookless plan. “People identify [book] stacks with the library.”

However, even Kiff acknowledges the importance of serving the public as they expect to be served today, rather than how they were served 20 or 30 years ago. As Newport Beach Friends of the Library board member Nancy Acone told the Los Angeles Times, adaptation is the key.

“You don’t want to be like the railroads and go out of business,” she said.

Sources

Kindle Review blog: http://ireaderreview.com/2009/05/03/book-cost-analysis-cost-of-physical-book-publishing/
Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0329-newport-library-20110329,0,1671782.story
Newport Beach Public Library: http://www.newportbeachca.gov/nbpl/
The New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2010/07/the-dawn-of-the-bookless-library.html

Stanford University’s bookless library

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