Art by Candice Hartsough McDonald -Do we still need those things called books?

Do we still need those things called books?

By Lisa Clancy, MSLS


We’re having a month-long celebration of the people who make our libraries run, who help us find the books we need, and who always know how to research topics for reports and term papers. In this 3-part series, we asked librarian extraordinaire Lisa Clancy to answer a few questions about what it is like to be a librarian in the age of the internet. Today’s question is…


Aren’t books obsolete?


The cheeky librarian answer is that elevators didn’t put stairs out of business, so the e-book won’t put the physical books out of business. There’s room for everyone, especially if the new kids are digital.


Some studies say that older readers like the portability of multiple titles in one device, while younger generations prefer holding a “real book” in their hands. Then again, I can find you an equal number of studies that claim the reverse appeal. (I’m a librarian, I can find you a study that claims the opposite of just about anything.)


So what is the fate of the “book book” as some patrons call it (usually with an accompanying hand gesture)? I don’t know, and truthfully it doesn’t matter. That’s just form. I’m interested in content, and so are you. You want a book about the Jacobite revolution so you understand what’s happening on Outlander? (You know that TV series is based on a book series, right?) You want a book for your husband who doesn’t read? You want, no you need a book for your child’s report that is incidentally due tomorrow? I can get it for you in book book, large print, audio, e-book, or downloadable audiobook formats. Well, in an ideal world I’d be able to offer you all formats, but that’s a discussion for a different blog (about ebook pricing, and publishers, and township budgets, etc.) Suffice it to say that if you want to read something and the library only has it in one format, you’ll likely take that format. And if the book, the work, is good enough, you’ll quickly forget the format and concentrate on the content.

Art by Candice Hartsough McDonald

Art by Candice Hartsough McDonald


There will always be content providers—writers, certainly, but also musicians and filmmakers and designers—and there will always be an audience. The two-year wait for tickets to Hamilton proves that live theater isn’t dead. On-demand TV hasn’t led to fewer shows being produced, and streaming music didn’t stop Adele’s recent record-breaking, chart-topping run. We just encounter our content in different ways now. Did you know that some e-readers have a dyslexic font, to make more text available to those who might struggle to read? E-readers have a lot of cool features now that make them more accessible: not only can you increase the size of the letters, but you can increase the space between the lines, adjust the contrast between the background and the type, even reverse the contrast so the type appears white on a black background if that is easier for you to read.


And a librarian will show you how to use every device, how to access content in any format. In addition to all the free books, cds, and dvds you can always check out with your library card, some libraries will loan you devices like Kindles, Nooks, iPods, and iPads. Yes, we embraced the technology rather than cower from it. We bent it to our will… well, you get the point: we’re not at odds with technology. It serves to deliver great content, something libraries have always embraced.


My goal over the course of these posts was to encourage you to seek out your local library and see what they’re up to. They’re doing all sorts of interesting things on a very small budget. Sound familiar? Libraries are a lot like you: trying to do something using all the resources you have at your disposal. We’re here to tell you that you have so many more resources than you may have realized.


Art by Candice Hartsough McDonaldThe theme of National Library Week this year is “Libraries Transform.” In the last decade libraries have transformed themselves to become intrinsic to your life. Maybe not your daily life, maybe you’ve done just fine without us, but the next time you think maybe you can do something more or different, there’s something you’d like to learn or try or find out, give your local library a chance. From books to classes, movies to crafts, information to entertainment, we’re transforming and transformative. Check us out!


Lisa Clancy, MSLS, is the Adult Services and Reference Librarian at the William Jeanes Memorial Library in Lafayette Hill, PA. She received her B.A. from Haverford College, a Certificate of Publishing from New York University, and her Master of Science of Library Science from Clarion University. She worked in a bookstore in high school and college. After a career as an editor connecting writers to readers, she’s now working the other side of the equation. She still has every library card she ever owned. She has a list of desert island books, including a few for kindling. Yes, she does have a cat, wear glasses, and own a lot of cardigans. No, she is not a superhero. Yet.