January 31, 2000. The electronic newsletter of the University Library, University of South Alabama, published irregularly as a service to the University Community.
Dr. Richard Wood, Library Director
Will university libraries cease to exist in the next millennium? The answer I most frequently give to this question is that university libraries will play an increasingly important role on campus over the decades ahead for several reasons. (1) There are more books, journal subscriptions, and documents that are not available electronically to purchase than ever before. Books will continue to be an essential resource for faculty and students for decades because paper is still the preferred format for fiction and most non-fiction. (2) The library's role in ordering electronic databases and media is a relatively new, additional responsibility. (3) The library's instructional role has been expanding and now includes not only the use of traditional reference tools such as indexes and encyclopedias, but also use of the web-based tools and search engines. Journals articles, directories, handbooks, catalogs, and other reference sources are increasingly made available through the world-wide-web. Finally, (4) the library will continue to become the primary manager of all common information resources, print, audio, visual, electronic, or microform, databases and licenses on most campuses.
Thus, those who have predicted the demise of the book by now or in the near future are simply wrong, except for particular categories of materials. Many reference, scientific, technical, and medical sources, for instance, are only available in electronic format. That trend will continue. Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble and other bookstores will continue to prosper along with database producers and Amazon.com because all of these information sources are essential commodities. Even microfilm continues to be the preferred format for preservation despite advances in digitization.
In summary, the demise of the book might seem to be inevitable due to web access of a rapidly growing number of information sources, but this does not mean the death of books. For example, journals and web accessible databases that did not exist even five years ago, are now accessible electronically through USA's campus area network. Most students love the ease of access and nearly instantaneous ability to get articles, often without needing to visit the library. This is certainly the trend as database vendors contract with USA University Libraries. But almost none of the non-reference books the libraries purchase are, or will ever be digitized and available through the web because, in part, it is not economical for publishers to do so. Paper will be the preferred format for fiction and general non-fiction for many years. To conclude, University Libraries will continue not only to acquire printed books and journals for decades, but also increase access to electronic databases through the web.