Posted by: | September 9, 2019

Don’t get rid of the paper just yet!

The need for libraries to change has certainly been the clarion call of the past 30 years, and probably long before that. But I believe that libraries are changing. Steering that change however, can be more like turning the Titanic: slow, deliberate, and requiring a wide turning radius. Nonetheless, despite what some might perceive as glacial speed, change is happening. Which is why this week as I was reading, I was struck by how much the call to change is still prevalent in the literature. I’m in no way trying to argue for old school approaches or for what used to be versus what could be. What I am arguing for is to be mindful as we make changes not to not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Here’s what I mean. This summer I wanted to make a dent in my Goodreads list. I borrowed each of the books I wanted to read from my public library and not one of them was an e-book. Why? Because the waiting list for the electronic version was L-O-N-G. How long? I took a screenshot of the availability of the popular title Where the Crawdads Sing today (September 8, 2019).

As you can see, the waiting list for the e-book is a whopping 990 patrons deep and there are 471 e-copies available! I opted instead to borrow the paper copy. Frankly, if I must choose between waiting a long time or going to pick up the physical book, I choose the latter. Since I went to the library in person, I was able to browse the shelves which led me to finding a book I hadn’t planned on reading (serendipity). On another occasion I met a fellow browser who recommended a book to me that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would have missed these unexpected connections if I had waited for the e-book or just purchased it from Amazon.

I guess my point is that there is something to be said for technology and change, but there is also something to be said for more traditional methods. I believe it’s important to strike a balance somehow between the two. As libraries strive to address the needs of their constituents, a “one size fits all” approach will not work. Changes need to make sense to the mission of the library and to its community. This tenet lies at the heart of Library 2.0.


Los Angeles Public Library. (n.d.). Where the crawdads sing (2018) by Delia Owens [Screen capture]. Retrieved on September 8, 2019 from


  1. Hi Christine,

    I definitely agree with you on this. I always find the best books when I browse the stacks. It truly is a serendipitous adventure. There was an article on this week’s module titled “To Keep the people happy… keep some books”, written by Saska Leferink (2018). I enjoyed this article because it implied that no matter how libraries change and advance, it will always be complete with some physical books. This article, and your blog, reminds me that libraries are not dead, as some non users imply. We are alive and kicking!


    • Hi Josephine, I concur with you that libraries are far from dead or obsolete. By the way, I loved the Leferink (2018) article. Nothing can replace the feel of a book – although reading on a lightweight device like a phone or tablet is pretty handy 🙂

  2. This is a really good example of why physical libraries and copies are still so important and useful! I actually tend to only have time for audiobooks while I’m doing other things like chores or crafting, but I still like to go to a library and browse because you really never know what you will find. I will almost always come home with an armful of books that I likely won’t get through, but they’re also nice to be able to hold and flip through. There are always new things to be found to read, which is or isn’t a good thing, depending on how much time you actually have to read, I think!

    • Hi Alice,

      I enjoy audiobooks too! They allow me to read without reading. And, I confess that I too am guilty of bringing home more physical books than I can feasibly get through. 🙂 It’s wonderful. There is nothing like curling up with a good book, or reading until the wee hours of the morning because you can’t put something down (even though you have work the next day and commonsense dictates that you get some sleep). I love discovering new books and new authors. Finding time for all that reading, well, that’s another story…

  3. This came up in our class chat too. I would swear I saw some stats that ebook borrowing had plateaued but now I can’t find it. As long as ink is put on paper, books will be on library shelves. your example of the holds issue supports this!

    • Hah! found it. It’s in the Bryan Kenney piece “The User Is (Still) Not Broken.”

      “It turns out that the e-book’s Manifest Destiny has been overhyped. E-book sales have flattened in the past year, and during the same period, according to new research from Pew, the number of adults who reported reading an e-book has grown only modestly, from 23% to 28%.”

      Perhaps the fact that the title in question is a popular title accounts for the insane number of patrons waiting on the ebook (even though physical copies were available).

  4. Hi Christine,

    I love your analogy of libraries changing at the speed it would take to turn the Titanic, “slow, deliberate, and requiring a wide turning radius.” 🙂 I think that this type of change also relates to the perception of the library users and nonusers. People still think of libraries as warehouses for books, and in this same train of thought, they insist that Google has thus effectively replaced libraries. In addition to the library itself changing, changing people’s perception about the library is perhaps even slower.

    • Melina, you make a really great point about how slowly the public’s perceptions of libraries changes. It doesn’t seem to matter how much libraries change, the stereotype of librarians and library’s frustratingly lives on. Wondering if collectively libraries (public and academic) need to engage in a national or international campaign to steer that effort more intentionally. Thoughts?

  5. @michael, I remember you mentioning that ebook lending had plateaued and thought that was interesting. Perhaps it has in some areas, but it’s definitely alive and well in LA! Also, I should have added in my post that I really like the feel of a physical book. Something about it is soothing and familiar. Leferink (2018) mentions this in her article. I have to admit though that nothing beats the ease of being able to read on a lightweight phone/tablet/ereader!

  6. @christineb I also enjoy holding a book, seeing how it is designed etc. For a couple of books this summer, I had a hardback version and also the audio version. I moved back and forth between them. 🙂

    • Interesting. How did that work out?

  7. Hi Christine,

    I’m still a fan of the feeling of holding a book, the smell that the pages have (if that’s a bit weird sorry!), and the feeling of cozying up under blankets and reading through a favorite goodie but oldie. It doesn’t help that I, at 26, am clueless when it comes to downloading books onto e-readers (which I only just discovered back in undergrad year 2012). I feel like I can relate to my older patrons with that woe.

    I also sadly hoard books as much as smaug does gold and treasure. I am working on collecting translated copies of Harry Potter and other series that I enjoy. Sadly, I’m limited by my shelfspace but I won’t let that stop me. I find that I appreciate the hard work that goes into publishing the content, the work that goes into the cover art, and more because I work with books and grew up loving them. I think I won’t ever stop collecting and reading a physical book.

    I think it’s good to create change and progress further but we also have to remember as you said that there are readers who might prefer the comforts of a physical book to flip through and enjoy. I believe that libraries can create an environment where both digital fans of books and fans of printed books can co-exist and flourish.

    Also regarding the book you shared, The Crawdad Sings, that book has always had a wait list of 46 people at my workplace. I only barely got a chance to read it thanks to my mom who snatched a copy at her workplace. It’s quite enjoyable and it’s my first dive into a quite popular title of adult fiction.

    It’s wonderful that you have so many copies! Sadly we only have 15-16 I believe. The number may have changed by now but it’s still stunning to see the love people have for that title.

    I liked reading about your experience going in person, which I still like to do, and going to the shelves. It’s a great way for you to experience titles which you may not have previously gone out to explore. I have found some interesting titles that way as well as receiving recommendations or perusing the returns through check-in.

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