One of my fondest memories growing up is my grandmother taking me to the Terry, Mississippi Library to check out books.
At the time, the brick building which stands there now, was non-existent; instead my wealth of information resided in a small, dingy gray trailer covered with cheaply carpeted floors. I adored every inch of that building. Natural history and science fascinated me, but then eventually I read practically, if not every book, in that section.
Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology” then became one of my favorites. I became intrigued by cultures, histories, and literature intertwining. I devoured classical literature and fiction novels. I saw the librarians more than I saw some of my family members. So, it is an understatement to say that books are important to me.
However, what about today? In our age of technology, is there still a place for the book, or have they become some relic of the past, much like that trailer from my childhood?
Socially, books are still relevant. Some people say that to know a person they should look at what they have on their bookshelf. Whether it is a cluttered bookshelf in a living room corner filled with popular fiction or a handsome study with leather bound volumes, books tell a story about who someone is.
Of course, as the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” (forgive the pun.) I am sure there are some out there who add a few more classical volumes or praised works to their collection than they actually read, but I will give most people the benefit of the doubt.
There is also of course the oversized ‘coffee table’ book, containing either photographs, art, or even types of wine. Coffee table books tell a story about the owner, but they also serve as a conversational piece or even entertainment to a guest.
Books are important socially, but do they actually matter as anything more than a social symbol?
E-books, apps, and online article are becoming increasingly prominent in today’s ever-expanding technological society. Does this mean that physical books are dying? I believe that it does not. Books are not dying, but rather their medium is being transformed.
For example, television is not dead because of the Internet, but television is rather transformed by the Internet. Now, people use services like Netflix and Hulu to watch TV online, rather than on the television itself. Television is not dead as a result, but is transformed and expanded.
Similar transformations affect radio and newspapers.
In this same way books are being transformed. The content of the book is the same, but it is presented in a different format. Despite this transformation, print books will not disappear altogether because physical books can still be useful. This is because new media does not destroy old media, but also because our brains read and retain information from pages and screens differently.
Reading comprehension from physical books is much greater, according to several studies. So, e-books are fine for leisurely reading, but when comprehension is desired, such as from a textbook or treatise, then a physical book is best.
E-books are not useless. They provide a cheaper, less space consuming alternative to books, but there is still a need for physical books. The book is socially important, and it still has logical basis for being used.
So I shall not fret about disappearing libraries…and neither should you. There is still a place for books, whether on the coffee table, in a study, or in a library, sparking a child’s imagination.
As it did mine.
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