Skip to content

What gas stations and libraries have in common

The Nelson library has made the decision: we’re going to get rid of all of our print books, magazines, and newspapers in one giant booksale and go digital.

The Nelson library has made the decision: we’re going to get rid of all of our print books, magazines, and newspapers in one giant booksale and go digital.

“It’s time the library caught up with the trend,” says chief librarian June Stockdale. “Print is on the way out; digital media is the future.”

Asked to explain what the library could look like without books, Stockdale described a room full of computers, “everything at the touch of the keyboard. Eventually, we anticipate having voice recognition software, eliminating the need for touch at all — although being a library, we’ll have to ask people to whisper.”

Patrons would simply tell the computer what book or subject area is desired, plug in an MP3 player or e-reader, and download directly.

“One day, the information will simply download directly into our brains via embedded microchips,” Stockdale laughed. “Won’t that be amazing?”

Having a completely digital collection eliminates the need for costly shipping and processing of hard copies, as well as repairs. There would be no reduction of staff, Stockdale says, because “the union won’t let us. At the beginning there will be lots of local luddites who will need assistance before they get up to speed, anyway.”

The Friends of the Library booksale, coming up April 30, will be “the biggest sale in the history of Friends fundraising! And we’ll put it all into digital acquisitions,” Stockdale said.

As for that brand new expansion? “Oh, we’ll need all the space for download stations. Think of it as going to the gas station. People will come to the library and simply fill-er-up. Way cheaper, too, given the price at the pumps these days.”

Of course, by now you’ve figured out that this column is celebrating April Fool’s Day. And yet the topic reflects the kinds of questions we get from time to time at the Nelson library. With so much available online, are people still really reading books?

The answer is yes. Statistics attest to the relevance of books and libraries. In B.C., for example, more that 80,000 kids participate annually in the Summer Reading Club; in Nelson, we saw an increase of more than 40 per cent in circulation since 2009.

Although libraries have noticed — and responded to — a trend towards digital media and online research, the book remains too much to too many to ever go away. Our storytimes are always full, with families coming together to socialize with one another and introduce young ones to the love of books and reading. Teachers tell kids that their project research bibliography must include books. And any way you slice it, it’s just not the same to curl up with a Kobo e-reader on a rainy spring night.

Libraries have always been about more than books. Now, as well as being a social meeting place and an informational hub, libraries are also one-stop intelligent shopping in the digital age: we’re the guide through the minefield of online resources and keepers of informational integrity. Because if you’ve spent five minutes online, you know that it’s a jungle out there.

It’s also good value if you consider the costs of, say, a hardcover novel ($37.50), paperback book ($10.99), or DVD rental ($5.75). One trip to the library can net an easy $500 in books, DVDs, and MP3s, and you can STILL go home and download e-books and audiobooks for further digital enjoyment.

You can have it all at the library. And that’s no joke.


Anne DeGrace’s column appears every second Friday in the Star