The idea of digital libraries once replacing the traditional ones has been around since the very dawn of the digital age. Isn’t it more convenient and efficient to keep books in electronic format than to stick to old-fashioned physical libraries with their shelves, repositories and maddeningly complex filing systems?
However, despite great breakthroughs in this sphere, traditional libraries are still around, although they don’t shy away from implementing some of the novelties into their structure. Why is it so? Is it going to keep that way?
Just like in case with any other topic, making predictions is an ungrateful task, for the world is most likely to develop in the least predictable way – just like it always does.
Of course digital libraries are more convenient and cost-efficient – with the majority of world’s population connected to the Internet it is theoretically possible to create a single repository of all the books the humanity has ever generated so that anybody can access any of them at any time.
However, so far this image remains a bit utopian. The library system, which allows you take a book for a period of time, doesn’t work well with digital texts. Digital book is not the same as a physical book – you cannot copy the latter without great expense of time and money, while copying the former takes less than a second. There are no limitations as to how many people can use a digital copy of the book. This means that traditional model, in which a writer writes, a publisher publishes and a reader buys and reads doesn’t apply well here. Hence all the problems with digital copyright, prosecution of those who share books and other digital items via the Internet and so on.
Humanity still cannot work out an effective way of solving this problem. Let’s imagine this worldwide library containing all books in existence and providing unlimited access to all of them free of charge. It may sound nice, but what is the motivation to write new books if the author doesn’t get anything out of it? Until this problem is solved we will have to work with what we have now: traditional libraries with physical copies of the books and limited access to digital texts, paid access to books online and illegal e-text libraries.
However, we all probably understand that traditional libraries slowly but steadily become the things of the past. Even now a library is not what it was a couple of decades ago, let alone fifty years or more. Any big library contains video and audio materials, access to the Internet and digital texts, utilizes electronic cataloguing systems and so on. It is only a matter of time before humanity thinks of an effective way to use digital libraries that would sit well with both readers and writers. Physical book will sooner or later become a rarity, for it is inconvenient to use, store and carry about.
It is highly possible that digital libraries will replace traditional ones in time. We just don’t know what they will be like.