Decline Of Libraries

October 28, 2011
“…It is a fascinating fact is that if you go online and visit 200 web pages in one day—which is a simple task when you could email, blogs, Youtube, etc.—you'll see on average 490,000 words; War & Peace was only 460,000 words.” ( With such staggering numbers it’s hard to believe reading is on the decline. What exactly determines are reading habits?

The decline of reading is nothing new, in fact, it’s been a issue for the past 30 or more years. “Henry David Thoreau once remarked that ‘Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.’ Until recently, Americans helped themselves generously to that wealth.” Roger Kimball states. He illustrates literacy as “weapon” in the American Revolution. Whether that’s true or not poses a well accepted fact. Literacy is the source to knowledge, and knowledge is power. And I believe the decline of reading is directly related the decline of libraries.

Libraries have always been our easiest route to books. Free and easy is usually a winning combination. However, the simplicity is being lost. Libraries now not only carry books, and the service of computers. They also carry VHSs, DVDs, CDs, magazines, and possibly in time, e-books. With this new wide range they are able to reach out to new people and interests. However the books are sadly lacking the attention they deserve. I understand that a library cannot stock every book. However under stock and overstock are a problem. The classics (such as Shakespeare) are grossly overstocked and books that could prove useful or enjoyable are under-stocked. Another problem is the libraries non-efficient hours. The weekends and holidays are most likely when a family would go to the library. Yet libraries are closed on Sundays and on the holidays.

The newest addition to libraries is the possibility of e-books, which is already creating tension with the libraries and e-book providers. “E-books, says Neiburger, are really digital files, but libraries and publishers are still trying to deal with them as if they are just like print books. In other words, they're trying to do business the way they have always done business…In the current climate, libraries worry they'll become obsolete. Publishers are afraid they won't be able to make any money.” (The Future of Libraries In the E-book Age, By Lynn Neary).

With the rise of e-books it’s understandable to question it’s affect on our reading habits. I specifically wanted to know , was the effect positive or negative. Do e-books effect how frequently we read or even what we read? According to one source, an article in the An American Editor, the effect can be quite strong and far reaching. She began chronicling her original reading habits and her e-reader’s effects. She refers to the changes as battles. “The other battles that the ereader has won are that of broadening my reading habits and skewing the number of fiction versus nonfiction books I buy. As for the former, I now read concurrently fiction and nonfiction rather than cycling and I read multiple genres of fiction rather than cycling. As for the latter, whereas I used to buy 20 nonfiction for every 1 fiction book, I now buy many more than 20 fiction for every 1 nonfiction I buy, although I read only 3 fiction for every 1 nonfiction (I have large to-be-read piles of both to get through). However, I rarely spend more than 99¢ on the fiction books.” The fiction genre especially seems to be thriving with e-readers. The author notes, “Much of the nonfiction I read is heavily noted and accessing notes was awkward at best, impossible at worst.” E-books now only effect reading habits but the book industry as well. Bookstores are struggling to keep up with the new downloading age. Libraries seemed to be suffering similar results. However, there are some positive aspects to the e-books.

David Ulynn was skeptical at first of the e-books, especially upon receiving his first reader, however it seemed to grow on him. “The newness of the eBook device is creating the demand but there are some outstanding features of eBooks worth considering as the impact on reading may be tremendous. For starters an eBook can store several hundreds of books at one’s fingertips, ready to read at anytime and anywhere. They do not require paper and are considered environmentally friendly. Books can be downloaded from the internet or bookstores like Barnes and Noble after receipt of payment or membership to an online bookstore. Once a book or magazine is downloaded you do not have to be connected to the internet and can read your eBook at any time. Equally attractive is the speed at which the books can be downloaded, depending on the device you are using it can take a few seconds to get a fully downloaded book. This also means information is immediately available saving a lot of research time that was previously spent in libraries. (italics my own) You can print an eBook as well.” Thus far, it seems e-books are here to stay, though it seems dubious they’ll ever replace the paper book. And the results on reading habits seem to be positive. Yet as noted the effects on libraries are less than pleasing. But I believe libraries are partially to blame. But books have always been good source material for films. How is that effecting libraries, especially some carry both the e-book and the film. Wouldn’t most people, especially kids and teens, find it easier just to watch the movie?

Today, when reading it’s no longer necessary to imagine what the characters look like, Hollywood does that for you. Notable book-to-film adaptation include, Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre (several times), Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland, Jaws and the list goes on and on. But how is this affecting the reading habits, especially in children and teens, who are more willing to go the theater? Megan R. Hendershot writes this, “The majority of those that read the book will go see the movie, but can a children’s book-based
Blockbuster movie ‘even make readers out of some students who don’t like to read?’ (Barlow, 62).” She continues in saying, “Children must first be interested in a book before they are motivated to read it. Every child has different reason for what motivates him or her to read (Israel, 58). A book-based movie can generate a child’s interest in a book and be a motivator for the child to read.”

With this evidence, I believe that the most effective factor in reading is not e-books and film adaptations , but the library. Since it’s founding it’s focus was to the provide the public with reading material. Today, I believe it’s focus has shifted instead to keeping up with everybody and everything else. If the libraries focused on the books things would improve. For example, cut down on the supply of books that have been overstocked, buy having regular circulation throughout libraries in local areas. Also, get new books into the libraries, with generous supply. Get teens involved: have contests where prizes include winning a book or prize money. Make going to the library enjoyable, instead of disappointing. Focus more on the books and less of everything else.

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