Libraries are synonymous with books but all of that has slowly been changing as libraries enter the digital age. Libraries have been making the shift from the physical to the digital for some time. For example Boston University’s libraries now use a digital database to catalog books, as opposed to a card catalog. Additionally many of the scholarly journals that the university subscribes too are available in online in digital form.
The digitization of library resources has many benefits. Students can easily conduct research from their homes using the many scholastic journals that are available online. Additionally, books on various subjects are easier to find with the help of digital keyword searches.
Yet the migration of data from the physical to the digital does have some drawbacks. According to Associate University Librarian Tom Casserly the migration of data has already proved to be a “huge problem. There are already huge losses.”
Think about all the different storage and media formats that have come and gone in the past few decades. Floppy discs, VHSs, laser-discs, Betamax, even photographic film have all become relics of the past. Sometimes these formats can be digitized but digitization takes time and resources; thus librarians must decide what is worth saving and what will fade away along with outdated formats.
There are several organizations that are working on digitally preserving different books and resources. The Internet Archive (archive.org) has been digitizing books, audio and the like to help make different resources easily accessible online. The Internet Archive has three different backup servers across the world in California, eastern Europe and Egypt. Despite all these backup servers the Internet Archive also keeps physical copies of their materials in storage. People cannot borrow these physical copies from the Internet Archive, but rather they exist in case servers crash. This seems like a good precaution to take because servers can crash, just as physical copies can be destroyed, and data can be lost forever.
Boston University Libraries are definitely moving in a digital direction. BU Libraries provide the Internet Archive with digitized information and resources. Additionally BU Libraries have launched the Digital Initiatives & Open Access which assists the BU Libraries with maintaining digital scholarship. Mugar Library is over 40 years old and filled to the brim with books. According to Casserly Mugar is so saturated with books that it’s “one book in, one book out,” at this point. However the possibilities for data storage and sharing become endless in the digital realm.
With the emergence of tablets and digital readers it will be interested to see if the need for books drops in the next 50 years. Are books destined to become a collector’s commodity like vinyl records? Will libraries in the future be completely book-less? “Books are emblematic of academic content,” says Casserly. Though people may be able to access content online books will most likely remain a part of the academic experience.
Go the BU Libraries Digital Initiatives website to find out more: http://www.bu.edu/dioa/