Across the Pond, E-readers are not Library Equivalents Edition

Leo Benedictus writes in Prospect Magazine about the closing of libraries in England and the rise of e-reading. Salient quote:

The talk of a future in which children cannot access books is also not just wrong, but backwards. E-readers—already available for £52 ($83), and falling—offer an incomparably more convenient way for anyone to find good things. While defending libraries, surely there is also time to promote the fact that, thanks to Project Gutenberg and Google Books, every child in the country can now download virtually any out-of-copyright book for nothing. (Piracy will doubtless do the same for most in-copyright books too, as may digital lending, though this is less cause for celebration.)

He goes on to argue that digital readers will be able to provide children with libraries of their own. I would agree with that notion if libraries were simply book access centers; who wouldn’t want to make it easier for readers to get a hold of books? But libraries operate beyond that capacity. E-readers do not provide the same internet access as current library computer labs; they do not have classes on computer use or other topics; nor do they provide programming for people of all ages.

A library also functions as a place, whether for old men to gather and play chess or teens looking for a safe space to be to do their homework and avoid the dangers of the street. It’s a community focal point, a space preserved for mental and social activity the same way parks are saved for physical activity. An ereader is a poor substitute for an actual place where these ideas can congregate and be exchanged.

Mr. Benedictus argues that 2011 will be the year that each child will receive their own library through an ereader. That may be so, but it will be at the loss of the discovery of books next to those titles on the shelf and a place that houses them.

(h/t: The Daily Dish)

reposted with permission from Agnostic Maybe

image by stevecadman


  1. Tyler3 April, 2011

    That’s why Fahrenheit 451 needs to be revised to be Fahrenheit 580 (the temperature polycarbonates burn) to represent e readers.

  2. monopole4 April, 2011

    Agreed. Even if every child had a tablet with the bulk of Project Gutenberg on it, the need to index and advise what to read still falls to the librarian.

    The pity is, the entire text content of the Library of Congress is ~20 TB. A decent desktop server can contain this. Even if we limit ourselves to the public domain the vast majority of every book printed could easily be made available in every branch library everywhere. Why an initiative to scan and OCR every book by the public and for the public has not even been proposed is beyond me.

  3. Griffin4 April, 2011

    If you have ever tried to read any of the books Google has scaned you would realize that the text recognition software still needs a lot of work and manually proof reading and correcting all those scanned books will take decades.

  4. garicgymro4 April, 2011

    Actually I believe he’s writing about the closing of libraries across the UK, not just England, as you claim.

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