Library vs e-books
Libraries seem like an archaic concept but some argue that they’re still necessary. In the third issue of In Focus magazine, nine individuals share their thoughts on the relevance of public libraries today.
The fact is that there’s more digital storage space available on the internet than public libraries. E-books from online libraries like OverDrive and 3M Library provide easy accessibility to content from all over the world. Today’s vast digital content shift might just mean that library services need to also change what they provide and how they display or present it. Countries like the Netherlands, China and Qatar are reinventing their library buildings for the modern age. On the other hand, high costs of running public libraries have forced closure of almost 500 libraries in the United Kingdom, since 2010.
Here, we ask some people what they think about public libraries and if it still plays a role in their life today.
Fatima Gharawi, 29
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Inspired Soul, Denmark
I don’t think that in the future we’d still have a traditional public library. I imagine a public library where you don’t have to carry heavy books. How will that knowledge be consumed or presented? I can imagine a modernised way of people meeting to gain knowledge and read. It’s all about the atmosphere and when you’re around people who are there to learn it also helps you learn. That’s something the internet can’t serve.
Hilda Makombe, 29
English teacher, Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe, the population still prefers the more traditional approach of getting information. I don’t think it’s better to completely switch to the internet. In a public library, you can easily access millions of books for a small fee. Public libraries appeal to those who prefer a place of academic solitude, who don’t have resources or are not tech-savvy enough to go online for research. The question we should be asking ourselves is how effective is online reading compared to library books. Some people find that reading from a screen puts a strain on their eyes.
Hasna Iflal, 41
Vice Principal, Hejaaz International
School, Sri Lanka
Some of the new generation kids appreciate the feel of a physical book in their hands. So, libraries must innovate to compete with digital books. When I was a schoolgirl, and had half an hour to spare after school before going home, my friends and I used to run to the public library which was about half a kilometre away. We’d run like mad but the pleasure of reading made all the sweating and panting worthwhile.
Csaba Bundik, 41
Innovations Manager, Management Consultant, Hungary/Vietnam
Paper-based books are not just storages of paper-based information, they are temples of knowledge and people go there to learn, prepare themselves for exams and be with like-minded people. Public libraries might change in the near future, but the intention of people to be surrounded by books and like-minded people will remain. Mine began with my grandfather’s bookshelf which had a series of Jules Verne books. I became a bibliophile and the start of a long journey which took me from a small village to another continent altogether.
Vinayakk Rajesekhar, 27
Digital Communications Consultant, India
Public libraries are extremely relevant and important in an increasingly digital world. In addition to being storehouses of aesthetic and intellectual value, they serve as a hub for social mobility among people belonging to various classes, groups, communities, and social strata. My most memorable moment in a library was when I walked into Sciences Po’s library in Paris. I found myself awestruck, stunned even, at the seamless interface with digital repositories without undermining the importance of the other.
Louise Tan, 37
English Teacher, United Kingdom
Public libraries in the United Kingdom remain widely frequented. That’s a testament to both their relevance and the fact that they provide something more. I feel that in fairly individualistic and privatised times, libraries are physical venues, free and open to all. They’re perhaps one of the few surviving links between, what I think many would agree is, a weakening sense of community. In an age of buying and owning, libraries can help teach children and remind us about sharing resources, having consideration for others, values which some might argue are in decline.
Professor Dr Syed Alwi Shahab, 74
Retired Professor of Philosophy, Education and
Libraries are no longer the repository or archive of printed matter. For public libraries to survive, they need to morph into social or community service providers to nurture community life. My first encounter with books was in an abandoned home in Singapore, after the war. My parents locked me up in a room full of books. It was the library of an Englishman who left in a hurry to escape the Japanese army. I couldn’t understand any of it, I was only five years old but I loved the pictures and illustrations. What struck me most was the gilt-edged binding and the design of the hardcover. Today, I still feel a tinge of awe and nostalgia when I see a beautifully bound hardcover book, a rare occurrence, sadly.
Hasan Al-Akraa, 18
Founder of Al-Hasan Volunteer Network, Syria
I think public libraries are losing their value because of e-books, fewer people go to public libraries to read books, but I go to the library almost every day. Public libraries add value to the town or city they’re in. Syria would be messed up without libraries. Something would be missing in schools, universities and public areas if there were no public libraries. The society wouldn’t find ways to educate themselves and read. Every country needs public libraries.
Fadhl Al-Maghafi, 56
Yemen Embassy, Czech Republic
I think public libraries are still relevant. I enjoy going to the library because of my love for books. I prefer digital libraries when I’m researching since they’re helpful in finding information. I personally like reading hard copies instead of digital books.