Where are the Books? Libraries Under Fire as They Shift from Print to Digital

Where are the Books? Libraries Under Fire as They Shift from Print to Digital

The Kobo eReader Touch, an Amazon Kindle, an Aluratek Libre Air, and a Barnes & Noble Nook, left to right, are displayed in this photo, in New York, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Today, e-book readers, including a Kindle, can be purchased for just over $100. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
The Kobo eReader Touch, an Amazon Kindle, an Aluratek Libre Air, and a Barnes & Noble Nook, left to right, are displayed in this photo, in New York, Tuesday, June 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

(The Washington Post) – The hallmark of public libraries — the printed book, bound by covers and centuries of page-turning — is being shoved aside by digital doppelgangers.

Around the country, libraries are slashing their print collections in favor of e-books, prompting battles between library systems and print purists, including not only the pre-pixel generation but digital natives who represent a sizable portion of the 1.5 billion library visits a year and prefer print for serious reading.

Some of the clashes have been heated. In New York, protesters outside the city’s main branch have shouted: “Save the stacks! Save the stacks!” In Northern Virginia, the Fairfax County library system chief recently mused that the Friends of the Library were no longer friends — a feud fueled by outrage over a print collection that has shrunk by more than 300,000 books since 2009. The drop in the District is even more dramatic: Nearly 1 million books have vanished since 2009.

“To say Gutenberg’s days are over is a terrible mistake,” said Dennis Hays, a former U.S. ambassador and chairman of Fairfax Library Advocates, a group of residents at war with library officials. “Nothing can take the place of a book.”

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