In the 1970s, Michael Hart at University of Illinois established the first wide spread production of ebooks when he created project Gutenberg. Since then use of ebooks as an established alternative to paperback books has steadily grown in popularity. The good news for libraries? The rise of ebooks as a popular medium is on a gradual rise. According to a telephone survey conducted in 2012 by Pew Research Center only 21% of the 2,986 respondents had read an ebook. Two years later, the research center surveyed an additional 1,005 American adults. By 2014 the number of adult Americans who read ebooks only rose by 7%.
The surveys revealed that ebooks are gradually becoming more popular. Libraries are by no means in immediate trouble, but the upward trend will continue slowly as ebook readers become more sophisticated and the younger generations mature in an age were ereaders are a fact of life. As ebooks become a more prominent medium for readers, it leaves many wondering: are libraries and librarians soon to become archaic pieces of a past age? Should young, idealist bibliophiles not pursue a career in the library sciences?
The good news? Libraries and librarians are not ignoring the very real threat to future of public libraries. As the technology is evolving, libraries and librarians are adapting to the needs of more digital oriented society. The American Library Association released a paper called "Confronting the Future" reveals three different dimensions that libraries could move towards. In the coming years libraries may begin to:
- become both a physical and virtual library
- serve as both a place for individuals to come and for community groups to meet
- serve as a place where editors, writers, artists, and website designers have the tools to create
According to the infographic created by the University of Southern California, libraries have already begun to adapt to become a physical and virtual library in the following ways:
- 86% of libraries in the United States have wireless internet patrons can use
- 67% of public libraries have offered ebooks since 2011
- 18.5 million ebooks are currently offered by public libraries in the united states
The adaptation into both a physical and virtual library has changed the services that librarians provide and the needs that they must fill. 21st century librarians now help patrons:
- access digital material,
- find materials based on paper and digital library,
- provide virtual services.
All research assures young bibliophiles that the library sciences are not a dying profession. It is a profession that is in the middle of a major transformation. People who choose to enter the library profession should expect these changes to continue. After all, change is what it needed to preserve the spirit of the libraries that we love.