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Paperless libraries of the future

Updated on September 23, 2011

The illustration shows a tablet computer,the type that may be loaned to users in the paperless library of the future.

Imagine a library that's devoid of books. Enter the age of the electronic paperless library.

Libraries have always been collections of books. Every library I've ever seen was a building filled with books of various kinds. I predict that in the future, all that will change. A library of the future will probably be a paperless library, and it won't have any books at all. Instead of books, it will be filled with computers. Some will be desktop computers that can be used by anyone who comes into the library. Others will be small, battery-powered 'tablet' computers, that will be loaned to people. Some of the tablet computers will have fully-functioning operating systems, capable of connecting to the internet through wireless networks, others will be 'e-book readers', that are only capable of reading books. Typically, the fully-functional tablet computers will be loaned only to adult library users, while the e-book readers would be loaned to juveniles. The e-book readers loaned to teenagers and children would be loaded with e-books that have been approved by the librarian.

With desktop computers, tablet computers, and e-book readers available, such a great variety of reading materials would be available that the library would not need any books at all. The paperless library would be truly paperless, the library cards required to borrow materials would probably not be made of paper, they would be plastic swipe cards. Eventually, even the plastic library cards would disappear since they could be replaced by various biometric systems, such as fingerprint recognition. When you go to the library, you'd have to touch your thumb to a fingerprint reading device, so the librarian could verify your identity before she allows you to borrow a tablet computer or an e-book reader. With fingerprint recognition, you would not need a library card at all. So, the paperless library of the future would be truly paperless, it wouldn't have books made of paper, and it wouldn't have library cards made of paper, either!

If you told the librarian your e-mail address, she could send you updates from time to time, to alert you of new books that had been published so you could pick them up as soon as they were available. The tablet computer that the library loans to you may be equipped with a built-in GPS receiver, so it's location can be tracked in case it's lost or stolen. You might wonder why paperless libraries should be created. The answer is cost. Many libraries are maintained by municipal governments that are strapped for cash. If it's cheaper to create a paperless library instead of maintaining a traditional paper-based library, many city governments will create paperless libraries just because they cost less than traditional paper-based libraries. Another advantage is freedom. Many authors want the freedom of being able to publish books electronically, rather than trying to get a paper edition of their books printed by a major publishing company. Another important advantage is storage space. You can cram more material into a paperless library than you can fit into an old-fashioned library. Think about it. Hundreds of books can be stored in digital form in a library's computer system, but if the same amount of books were printed on paper, they would weigh tons, and would require a huge amount of storage space. I predict that paperless libraries are definitely in our future.


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