The subject of printed books and electronic books (or e-books) has been featured in numerous past articles in this newsletter. Therefore, I was interested today to see an online Associated Press article and video about numerous universities that are purging many printed books from their shelves. In many cases, the libraries simply don't have the room for all the old books, and the idea of expanding libraries is subject to budget constraints. If they want to purchase new books, even printed publications, the libraries have to free up shelf space. Also, according to one 2009 study of libraries, between staffing, utility costs, and other expenses, it costs about $4 to keep a book on the shelf for a year.
In one example at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, (yes, there really is an Indiana University of Pennsylvania, see https://www.iup.edu/ for details), nearly half of the university's collection remained uncirculated for 20 years or more. Unused books obviously do no one any good.
Of course, an increasing number of books exist in the cloud where publishing costs, shipping costs, and storage costs are only a fraction of the expense of printed books. In addition, most students and even many older library users prefer the convenience of Wikipedia, Archive.org, Google Books, and other free sources of information along with paid services, such as Kindle.
Genealogists are a part of this trend. The specialized genealogy libraries that many of us have used for years suffer from the same budget constraints as other libraries. They probably also have the problem of books that are not accessed for years at a time. Today, there are more genealogy books available through your home computer than at any single genealogy library. Just ask the folks at FamilySearch, an organization that has downsized their printed book collection in favor of making the same books and other publications available online whenever copyright laws allow.
Libraries aren’t the only ones facing these decisions. Individuals face the same issues. For instance, my Kindle now contains more than 150 e-books, including numerous genealogy books, old county histories, and more. I carry all of them with me almost every time I travel. Try to do that with printed books! In addition, most of the e-books are easier to search than are the printed books. I can find any word or phrase in an e-book within seconds with the exception of some of the books printed electronically in PDF format. For those few books, I have to search the old-fashioned way, one page at a time, the same as in a printed book.
I admit I love the feel and the smell of old and even new printed books. However, when purchasing a book, the funds available in my wallet usually dictate my choice. The cost of purchasing a printed book, shipping, buying yet another bookshelf (and finding a place for it in my home!), usually swings my decision in the opposite direction. Sometimes we don't have a choice; but, if a choice is available, I usually will select the ebook version of a book I want to read.
Which do you prefer?
NOTE: The idea for this article was triggered this morning when I purchased a new book from Amazon. I had to make a choice between paperback or Kindle. The Kindle version was much cheaper, requires no additional storage space, and was delivered (electronically) to my Kindle or iPad or Android tablet or Windows or Macintosh computer seconds later with no shipping charge. The choice was obvious to me.