Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More about books. Yeah, I know.


But still -- I was pondering the car manual the other day, as I tried to figure out how to change the time my clock was displaying. And you know what? I'm really glad I had a manual ( = book), because the process was irritating enough that if I'd also had to wade through some cumbersome technological intermediaries (which I've written about previously on ACRLog), it would have been just that much more of a hassle. For the car manufacturer, a printed manual is the obvious choice.

What were the alternatives to the car manual? If I'd had a smart phone I could have connected to the manual online, searched by keyword for 'clock', and gotten the information that way. If I had been told the manual was online, and I didn't have a smart phone, I would have had to find a computer, print or write down the instructions, and been annoyed at the car manufacturer that the manual wasn't right where I needed it (i.e., in the car).

What if there was a network connection & monitor in the car? Seems like a pricey thing to have as a standard option...a distraction when driving...attractive to thieves...likely to fail during an emergency...No, short of expecting all car owners to have smart phones (and maybe they will in the future? What about in a parking garage where there's no connection, or when the phone battery is dead?) a manual was the best way to go. If the manual is online, that's the back-up version in case the one in the car goes missing.

So in this way -- when there's a time and a place for books -- they won't completely disappear. Yes electronic information is more convenient, portable, linkable, etc., but books can be cheaper for the user, are often easier, and don't require as much equipment.

I know things are always changing, and I know not everybody thinks about this as much as I do. Most people's behaviors mirror the most obvious and easy ways of doing things. But should the library continue to collect books? Should we be known for books? Should we provide print-on-demand kiosks? I recently helped a patron who was upset because the books she found were all e-books. (I think she didn't want to have to read the book online or be required to have an internet connection.) Later I helped a student who was thrilled she could connect to some of the library's books online. The library is trying to provide resources in the most convenient & accessible manner, and we can't please everyone without stretching ourselves pretty thin.

I've had a recurring worry that people will renew their appreciation for books, now that the economy is tanking and they can't afford internet access and/or current computers & software. I'm paranoid that nobody will be able to afford the equipment to use our online resources, and that library budgets will be cut so we'll lose our online access to resources anyway. Then patrons will come to the library asking "Where are all the books?" But this is ridiculous. Right?

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