There’s nothing like a library. Well, that’s not exactly true. Chapters is somewhat like a library, with coffee and biscotti, as is a used book swap meet in a church basement. A vacant lot is almost a library; it’s just waiting for the walls, the shelves, and the tens of thousands of volumes to fill it up.
It’s too bad, then, that libraries and almost-libraries will soon disappear. Paper-based books are going the way of dodos, clubbed to death by publishers, book retailers, and librarians sailing on the data seas. We are told that the future of books lies in electronic media, the virtues of which are well-known and oft-cited and already boring to hear about. These new digital books, also known as Content Delivery Devices (or CoDDs) can, like Lady Gaga, manifest themselves in many formats and look great on any of your various screens. On the face of it, then, there seems to be no need to retain any of these grand old book barns once the tree-derived livre has been transmuted into its weightless, ideal form.
Fortunately, experts tell us these freed-up libraries will not go to waste after the last paper book is pulped and slurried into high-quality animal feed. For example, university libraries can be repurposed into what have been dubbed Big Quiet Study Halls (or BiQuiSH’s), which, ironically, won’t be quiet at all, since without books to read there will be no need for silence. Multitasking will be the the name of this game, along with, we can be sure, virtual and face to face social networking. Big time. The modern BiQuiSH, we learn, will come equipped with flexible seating arrangements to encourage on-the-fly collaboration; ports, jacks, hubs, and sockets; and an assortment of screens so vast that it will resemble for all the world a Future Shop showroom. The atmosphere will be so thick with wifi, Bluetooth, 5g, 6g, 7g, and the rest that one will be able to cut the data soup with a rusty letter opener.
A final note: The American historian and novelist Shelby Foote claimed that a university was nothing but a group of buildings gathered around a library. He would certainly be pleased, were he still alive, to find that in the 21st century, the very air itself contains all the knowledge of the world (thanks Google and wireless!), and so the library has in effect extended its dominion everywhere. Universities will now be able to gather themselves more fittingly around athletic complexes and administrative offices.