In libraries everywhere the debate about whether the printed book is dead, or merely not that useful anymore continues to be a discussion. Of course, it can largely depend on the type of library in question. In my sector, academic libraries are making room for more student space often at the expense of print material because circulation (that’s library jargon for borrowing) statistics continue to plummet and the bulk of our collections are online where our community of users can find them at point of need. I know that while my local public library keeps a very comprehensive and well used print collection on the shelves, they have also expanded into many digital services, many of which I use along side the ‘traditional’ borrowing of a book. These are all important parts of juggling customer demand and cost, regardless of the type of library.
As part of my work with the International Librarians Network I was setting up some details for our new country coordinator for Malawi and followed a link to an organisation he is involved with called the Wungwero Book Foundation. You can follow the link to read more about this project, or look at their Facebook page, but there was one paragraph I found so powerful I’m reproducing it here, in case you don’t go off and read the whole thing
People are very poor and it is considered a luxury for children to be able to attend school. Most students had to drop out of school in 2002 due to a severe drought that caused widespread famine in Malawi. We are still recovering from this…. It is very difficult to get books in Malawi. There are no book publishers and new books are not available. Any book is very expensive and out of the price range of most people, three quarters of whom survive on less than $2/day.
Kind of puts perspective back into the whole thing for me. It doesn’t change the fact that the other issues are an important part of my job and have to be weighed and measured, but it does remind me that they are a long way down the list of things to worry about for so much of the world’s population.