Just before the holidays, I visited my grandchildren during their finals. I got a dose of medieval history and thought about the dramatic changes that have occurred in the last 1,500 years. By now, most people are aware that our world – and especially technology – is changing and developing at lightning-fast speed.
As Peter Fisk writes in his blog Gamechangers: “Today, it’s the amount of data in the world that’s doubling every two years ... more than 4 billion people are now using the internet – we can understand why the term ‘disruption’ has become a favorite among business thinkers and other commentators.”
Libraries are no stranger to changes. Pew Research determined that about a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, no matter what format is provided. Most of this group consists of people who do not have a high school diploma or have never visited a library.
But, even more significant, those who are reading are spreading their book consumption across multiple formats. In fact, one in five Americans have listened to an audiobook in the last year.
In our library, we are clearly seeing this played out both with audiobooks on the shelf as well as audiobooks available electronically.
In an interesting op-ed in The New York Times, Alix E. Harrow wrote a sci-fi piece, “It’s 2039 and Your Beloved Books are Dead.” She writes: “Books may be dead, but the stories themselves – those unruly creatures we trapped in paper and pixels, the narratives that delight and dismay and define us – are still very much alive.”
She writes of the “Verse” – a virtual reality delivery system. It’s a system that delivers stories on steroids – not only the written word – but also sounds, smells and visions as part of the whole deal.
Since Gutenberg put his ink onto a press in 1439, books have survived in spite of radio, TV and even the internet.
It’s been an amazing technology that brought about many advances in history over the last 700 years. And, its main purpose has been to tell stories – stories about people’s accomplishments, stories about people’s personal experiences in life, stories about animals, how-tos – pretty much anything you can think about.
Can you imagine that another format – i.e. virtual reality – might be able to do the same thing in a way more sensory, more adaptive and possibly more affordable than how we share our stories now?
It’s a thought-provoking piece that brings me back to libraries. The goal of the work of libraries is to supply whatever format fits the times – books, audiobooks, DVDs, programs, and I’m sure VR one day.
We are the local gathering spot to share stories in order to communicate, educate, share and connect people. You can do that by attending a program, checking out a computer, borrowing a DVD, or yes, even checking out a book.
Shelley Walchak is director of Pine River Library.