Wednesday, August 29, 2012
The future of libraries, schools, and the ebook revolution
Last spring I toured a school. As a group we were shuffled into a large room with the traditional school tables, chairs and a couple of shelves pushed off to the side. There we were given an overview of the school and various programs offered. At one point there was an apology. The apology was for the current state of the library. Yes, we were sitting in the library. This was the library? Initially I was shocked. Where are the books? Is this a lack of funding? Are they storing their books somewhere else while the room is under renovation? No, it was none of the above. The entire school has moved to the use of laptops. Students are issued laptops on the first day of school. The students no longer tote around heavy books for math, science and the like. The library is virtually devoid of paper books. The students research, submit, and access information from their school issued laptops.
So that got me to thinking... is this the future of libraries and schools? Will libraries move totally online eliminating the need for paper books? Will libraries basically become study centers with tables, chairs, or colorful couches or internet cafes on school campuses with coffee, Mountain Dew and candy bars? What about funding for school technology? Is the technology going to be so inexpensive that laptops and tablets will be virtually disposable? Will the ebook revolution generate less expensive online textbooks or divert funding from other resources such as physical book budgets? Will teaching on tablets actually be less expensive than paper books. Will late adoption by some schools create a vast divide of the "have's" and the "have nots?"
Don't get me wrong I realize there are huge issues with implementation. Many schools have ongoing theft issues (both suburban and urban), how do we get students and parents to take responsibility for laptops, etc. Public schools can be some of the slowest adopters. Keep in mind that I grew up in the public school system and I am a strong supporter of the public school system (the lack of school funding is a whole different rant for another day). As an example of late adoption, schools continue to use cassettes players to teach students. One of the requirements for schools supplies recently was a cassette player. I almost went into a panic -- where was I going to get a cassette player? Fortunately (or unfortunately) my wife keeps everything. So you guessed it, we had a small portable cassette player in the basement in a box. It is grey with a long strap so you could throw it over your shoulder like a purse and listen to music as you walk. And yes there is still a pink Walkman in our basement as well -- at what point does an item become an antique?
Much debate has been generated about paper books. Bestsellers still generate a majority of their sales from paper rather than eBooks. However, the resale of paper books is almost at zero just take a look at Amazon's buy back rate. Every garage sale has hardcover and softcover books for sale for as little as a quarter (including recent bestsellers). Paper books are almost worthless after purchase (other than the intrinsic enjoyment from reading the story). I recently purchased a hardcover book on Amazon for a school project. The used hardcover book was 1/2 the price of the paperback and 1/3 of the price of the ebook and it came with free shipping for a total of $2.95. The rock bottom price with free shipping forced me to buy the hardcover which now I will probably donate. So with used paper books that are almost free, will that hinder libraries and schools from moving towards technology?
It is a total paradigm change and one that can quietly slip by if there isn't someone championing the cause. One that public and private schools need to consider because the early adopters are navigating this new terrain now and they have been for two or more years. So just what is the future of libraries, schools, and books?
Posted by Roger Stelljes at 7:55 AM