Left to right: The Amazon Kindle, the Barnes and Noble nook, the Sony PRS-505
Has the reading revolution begun? If the actions of some academic institutions are any indication, the desire for change is at least present.
Last summer, this private boarding school in Asburnham, Mass., overhauled its 20,000-volume library, moving out the print collection and moving in a digital one. Students can now check out books on one of the library's 65 Kindles and access additional material through the 13 databases available on school computers. Cushing has also partnered with Oxford University to offer materials it develops as free, open-source works.
Spots checks had revealed that on some days, fewer than 30 books - or 0.15 percent of the library's collection - were in circulation. One way or another, the library needed a shot in the arm, and Headmaster Jim Tracy believes going digital was the best course of action.
"What the students are telling us is: 'We're not using the print books. You can give them to us, but they're just going to collect dust.' So we're saying, 'Lets' be honest: Let's give them the best electronic information available.'"
Tom Corbett, Cushing's director of Media and Academic Technology, says there's also a financial upside to the digital collection. Before the switch, Corbett paid $30 for a new hardback book; he now regularly pays just $5 for one e-book, allowing him to buy six times as many titles.
So what does a bookless library look like? In Cushing's case, students are greeted by three big-screen TVs, and the circulation desk has given way to a coffee bar boasting a $12,000 espresso machine. Needless to say, the library is no longer deserted.
According to the British ministry of Culture, Media and Sport, annual library visits have decreased from 302 million a decade ago to 280 million, with book lending numbers down even more. After introducing e-books, however, a handful of libraries have reported a spike in interest from patrons.
"In recent weeks the number of e-book downloads has been increasing fast, and there are people emailing us from all over the country, and even abroad, asking if they can join as members online," said librarian Fiona Marriott from Luton Libraries. The service is available only to local residents currently, but even so, more than 250 new members have already signed up.
Users "borrow" e-books by logging into the library website and downloading titles to their personal digital readers. The material automatically deletes itself from the reader after 14 days.
Tony Durcan, former president of The Society of Chief Librarians, expressed delight at the new availability of e-books.
"Book issues have seriously declined in recent years. This is an exciting development. These are not going to replace the paper book, they are as well as [them]."