Cushing Academy, a private school in western Massachusetts, recently removed all paper books from the library and replaced them with computers from which students could download e-books. The school also disposed of the circulation desk of old to put in a fancy coffee drink machine. The administrators believe that this is a tremendous step forward, but is it really to be considered progress?
With the arrival of e-books and e-readers, there has come this question: should we let e-books obliterate paper books? Or should we keep both options available? Many institutions, and individuals, have chosen to go completely digital, like Cushing Academy. While many are taking part in the “digital revolution,” it is clear that paper books should be kept available to the general public.
Those who back the advancement of digital book and reader technology, such as the Kindle or Nook, say that the digital book is more environmentally friendly than the traditional book. They claim that the high cost of the e-readers will eventually be made up for, as e-books cost slightly less than paper books. They maintain that e-readers are more convenient to carry than paper books, because you can have many e-books with you for the size of one small paper book.
However, many publishers today are careful to use only paper that has been recycled, or is derived from trees grown in specially controlled forests. This eliminates the environmental issue. Also, the slightly lowered cost of e-books is not enough to justify the purchase of a highly expensive e-reader. In the digital age, you have to be able to afford an e-reader to use e-books. Many people can’t afford this. The advancment of the e-book will essentially lead to a society in which only the wealthy can have an access to literature. For those who can afford an e-reader, it is just another way to escape face-to-face contact with fellow human beings. Instead of going to a bookstore or library to pick up books and meet others, with e-books and readers you have to interact only with a screen.
In the “digital revolution” the benefits of libraries as places of social interaction and places to learn are lost. Temporarily downloading e-books from a web site does not require a trip out to an actual building. This also means that the jobs of librarians, bookstore owners, and book printers would be gone: a definite loss of jobs.
Books and writings give insight into our lives, into our culture, into our humanity. How will future peoples have access to these things if all that is left after a catastrophe are useless shards of metal and glass? Books have a staying power and a link to our human minds far beyond that of digital books. As Marcus Tullius Cicero once wrote, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
Therefore, keeping paper books on the market and libraries open is the clear way forward to a better society, and a better world.