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Is 2014 (finally) the year of the book revolution?

Dylan Lemert, Preface columnist

Dylan Lemert, Preface columnist

By: DYLAN LEMERT
Columnist

Every time a new year swings around, I, perhaps like many other well-intentioned folks, take a mental inventory of all the things I’d like to accomplish for the next 365 days.

Call them goals, call them resolutions, call the entire process wishful thinking, but the clean slate of a new year feels as much of an opportunity to start over as anything else. It’s a chance to do more, and do better. To see more. To experience more.

And yes, to read more.

I like to read. It always tops my list of things I need to do more of, but alas, it’s one of the very things I systematically manage to fail at most. When all was said and done, I read a mere fraction of the books I originally intended to for the 2013 year, the row of stagnant titles on my shelf going largely untouched.

And if there’s something I should know by now, it’s that there’s nothing quite like marveling at a big stack of vanquished books—actual, tangible books—to administer feelings of true accomplishment.

Library books, Vienna, Austria. With the advent of digital platforms, books like these may soon become relics of the past. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Library books, Vienna, Austria. With the advent of digital platforms, books like these may soon become relics of the past. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps I’d be a bit more lenient on myself if I weren’t currently employed by a public library. In the library I’m surrounded by books of all types; new books with glossy covers and old, musty classics finally coming apart at the seams. The pages of the latter have yellowed by now, and just glancing at their covers already makes you feel a tad more wise.

I stumbled upon a newspaper article a couple weeks ago about a brand spanking new library that was being built somewhere in Texas. The pictures made the place seem like a well-reasoned response to an Apple store, clean lines and sleek fixtures all around. There were rooms with computers lining both walls, and…more rooms with more computers lining even more walls.

As the nation’s first all-digital library, there are no books to be found with the confines of this newly-built endeavor. In lieu of books, iPads loaded with digital titles can be checked out for two weeks at no cost to any patron with a library card.

This Library of the Future, as some have taken to calling it, is surely taking some risks with its no-book policy. However, only time will tell whether or not the formula sticks. I see no immediate reason for it failing, yet I’m not so sure the average person is quite ready for such a drastic and compelling change to the established library system. You know, the one that’s been around for several millennia.

Personally, I love the idea of an all-digital library. I think it’s futuristic and cool. But I also love having options. And for me, the option to have access to the old ways of doing things—in this particular case, picking up a good, old fashioned book—trumps the cool factor of just about anything else.

It’s not that the digital book revolution isn’t intuitive for reading or learning. It’s just that a broken-in paperback, at least to me, offers so much more. The weight of bound paper in hand, the smell of pages and years, the ability to stack them high and proud on a shelf as testament to personal taste and achievement. But for how much longer? Are the novelties afforded by traditional books simply going the way of the buffalo, of Gutenberg?

Considering the time-tested pleasures of the aforementioned alternative, will the digital revolution ultimately revolutionize much at all?

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