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Is technology paving the way for bookless law libraries?

Is technology paving the way for bookless law libraries?

Posted by justis1 | 17 September 2015

The way we are using technology is an ever-evolving process. As we adapt to new releases and advancements, all the while increasing our reliance on them, their presence becomes irreplaceable. For example the Chartered Information of Library Information Professionals (CILIP) reported that in 2014 the use of mobile devices to access the internet had overtaken desktop access for the first time. 

It cannot be doubted that we want to load information, and respond to emails (amongst others things) as quickly as possible with minimal hassle. But can we extend this growing technological need to the concept of a ‘bookless library’, whereby information will only be accessible through the use of eBooks, Kindles and iPads? Or do we prefer the ‘traditionalist approach’ of trailing through the pages of books?

The above questions are perhaps best dealt with by looking at what is gained from simply reading a book. As a student the ability to flick through pages, highlight, place post-it notes everywhere, has been my main tool when revising. In fact, neither I nor anyone I have studied with during an intense session of “brain-cramming” has chosen up an eBook over its physical counterpart. From my observations it seems that when sat in a library, the books are always a favoured option. There is something rewarding about closing the final page. Nevertheless, despite my personal preference of page turning and closing, that is not to say that technology’s presence is a redundant feature in a student’s life.

Last year, the first reported bookless library opened in Florida Polytechnic University, with over 135,000 eBooks available to the reader. Its reaction has divided opinion, some describing it as “revolutionary” whilst others branding it as an “uninviting, sterile environment”. The Director of Libraries, Katheryn Miller stated that it was designed to “help students become better technology users and learners”. But what about the other benefits of having a digital library?

The heaviness of law books is a physical battle in itself. Let alone tackling long, complex judgements spilling over hundreds of pages that hibernate in the bottom of your bag. On a day that carrying my own body weight in books does not seem like an appealing start to my morning, I’ll often pack my laptop and base most of my research on case law websites that offer concise, summarised information.

There is also the consideration that with a finite number of books available at any given library, once someone has taken that book out on loan, the information disappears along with it – lost until returned.

The use of accessible data online combats this issue, as there is no limit to the number of users using the resource at any given time. For this reason, it can be seen that having the use of eBooks, and therefore instant data, can be preferred in libraries.

Aside from the practical considerations, the issue of finance can never be ignored in a business organisation with libraries often having strict budgets to adhere to. Could eBooks therefore prove to be more economically viable than their paper counterparts which run the risk of being misused, lost or stolen by users?

On the one hand, eBooks for library access are expensive. The multiple occupancy of users and initial costs of implementation may prove to be high. For example it cannot be presumed that all users, if a ‘bookless law library’ were implemented, would be familiar with how to use the digital devices. This therefore may require librarians to teach new users at a potential cost of time, money and training. It will also likely be the case that digital editions will not generate any revenue by way of charges when someone forgets to return their book.

In the context of library usage, in terms of accessing and purchasing there is a requirement for a license agreement and this can be a complex process. Further difficulty can arise when considering whether libraries actually own the content or whether it is merely leased to them. This once more is an area clouded by confusion and requires looking at the terms and conditions of the agreement. This point highlights an added complexity to the nature of eBooks.

As technology advances so should our ability to understand it and use it to our advantage. There is no denying that our future will not progress without it. However there feels something contradictory, even unsettling about a library without books – almost comparable to de-caffeinated coffee, what is the point?

The very word ‘library’ evokes a visualisation of dusty shelfs and piles of textbooks, to rid a library of its core features would be undermining the essence of its meaning: “a building or room containing collections of books”.

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