It's happened. The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has decreed that school textbooks will soon become history in his state. They will be replaced by online texts.
In an effort to plug an enormous budget deficit, Arnie has called for online math and science texts to be made available to high school students as early as next August.
Students can use their home or school computers to access databases or they can use a handheld device, such as a Sony Reader or a Kindle which can hold as much information as 160 books.
Understandably there is some concern from educators. If Arnie's ideas are implemented teachers and students will have to learn how to use these new materials properly.
The initial start up costs would exceed greatly the cost of replacing old textbooks. In addition, paraphrasing one educator, "In a class of 30 students, maybe half have access to a computer at home and fewer still have digital readers" - this is happening even in rich and computer savvy California.
Handheld electronic readers such as Kindle look and feel like standard books. The font size can be adjusted. Margins can be used for notes and you have an automatic dictionary.
Novels, non fiction books, newspapers and magazines can be downloaded anywhere, within seconds any time. One of the major complaints of electronic readers is there's no backlight, you can't read it in a darkened room. It is also a bit too large to just stick in your pocket.
Listening to CBC the other morning, I heard an interview with a Lower Mainland librarian talking about the latest addition to services for her patrons - downloadable books.
She suggested that a person could go into the library's catalogue from his/her computer and choose an item, select the borrowing time within the library's own borrowing rules, and then read it from a handheld device on the plane, train or vehicle.
When the borrowing time is up, the book is automatically deleted. To begin with, there would be only selected offerings, maybe bestsellers. But in time, some people may choose this electronic way to read. Our library already has downloadable audio books, just visit our website, squamish.bclibrary.ca.
How do you feel about the possible decline of books and libraries as we know and love them? What form will books take and how will they and libraries serve us in 50 years' time?
The debate continues in the next article from Shelf Life.