Day three of working from home, the snow is still falling and I was reflecting on how easy it was to work here with broadband and mobile technology. (Anyone reading this where you know how to operate in real snow, please excuse how pathetic we are in the UK. We just don’t get enough snow to have the right infrastructure.)
Contrast this with my daughter, Jan who is desperate to get into the university library as she has assignments to complete and she is not allowed to use internet based research (let’s leave that debate to one side). So she needs access to the books. Supposing she can get there and it is open, what she would do is find the relevant books, borrow what she can and photocopy the chapters of books she can’t borrow and then complete her work at home.
I can’t help thinking about my iPad on which I have iBooks and a Kindle reader and now numerous books, including a number of samples. In a sample I’m allowed to read the first chapter or two to see if I want to read the rest of the book, so it is possible to download sections of a book. I love real books and thought I might miss the tactile element of handling a book, but I’m quite converted to my gadget. Having my library in my hand is brilliant. If I was a student I’d love the ability to note and annotate sections and find them again quickly. There is also the automatic dictionary for the many words I don’t understand.
All of which got me thinking, surely libraries should be looking to develop an online rental service for books. After all if I can rent films online why not books or sections of books. So a student, can access their university library from anywhere, download what they need and carry it around in one small gadget. (With the iBooks and the Kindle, I can access all my books on both my computers, my phone and my iPad.) I realise that we’d be reducing the physical effort of students having to carry all these books around, but time spent hunting for books in the library could be diverted to the gym.
On this basis I can see no long term future for physical text books and academic libraries will need to evolve to meet the challenge and expectations of their students. I also think that the same can be said of business books, I now get annoyed if I have to buy the physical version, rather than the electronic version.
The one thing I miss with ebooks is the lack of ability to share and pass the book on. Books should be shared.
Lastly, one final advantage of an electronic book reader; it’s great for reading in bed in the middle of the night without having to put the light on! Although, as a teenager, I’m not sure this quite replaces the joy of reading your favourite books, under the bedcovers by torchlight.