No books in the library

Toilet paper

Would you want to use virtual toilet paper?

Years ago I remember one of my wife’s teenage students proudly announcing that there were “No books in the library” – something which made us roar with laughter at the time (after she’d left, of course) and has since gone on to become a bit of a catchphrase in our establishment for when someone can’t be bothered to make an effort.

Obviously our teenage friend (now long grown up, of course) was referring to there being no (easy to find) books on the particular subject matter that she was interested in and not claiming that some over-educated gang of thieves (such as local politicians) had taken it upon themselves to clean the library out. Nowadays, of course, the idea of there being no physical books in a library is far from nonsensical – in fact it can only be a matter of time for most such establishments.

After all, I can store tens of thousands of books on my tablet – just think what a 1 petabyte (1,000 Terabytes) hard drive could hold.

The trouble is that this then opens a huge can of worms. In the old days, you went along, found a book, signed it out to yourself, went home to read it and that was that. One book meant one borrower. With e-books that goes out the window.

One book – (potentially) billions of borrowers.

Thus, unless the library of the future insists that you read your book on the library’s premises, you are going to have to download the book onto your own device and then go home and read it. Given that DRM (Digital Rights Management) is no safeguard for an author against their book being ripped off, what is to stop the borrower from circulating it? At the moment, relatively few digital books are borrowed but, as libraries move inevitably towards virtuality, it’s an inescapable conclusion that this is going to be a major influence on sales of e-books.

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