However, we are so obsessed with books and writing that we fail to realize just how tiny a percentage of the population that people like us are. We are the exception, not the rule. Thomas Washington, a Washington D.C. area school librarian is in the trenches and he is concerned that "the books in the library stacks are gathering dust."
When I started in this profession five years ago — I used to teach English — I presumed that librarians were mostly united in their attraction to books. But as I moved along in my library science program, I found that books weren't really our focus. Information management, database networking and research tools claimed the largest share of the curriculum....
In other words, literacy today is defined less by how English departments or a librarian might teach Wordsworth or Faulkner than by how we find our way through the digital forest of information overload.
Students are still checking out the standard research fare — the Thomas Jefferson biography, the volume of literary criticism on Jane Austen — but few read it. The library checks the books back in a day later, after the students have extracted the information vitals — usually an excerpt or two to satisfy the requirement that a certain number of works be cited in their papers.
Conventional wisdom has it that teenagers don't read because they're too busy. Only after high school, sometime midway through college, do young adults reconnect with their childhood love of reading and make books their partners for life. I don't think so anymore. The 2004 Reading at Risk report by the National Endowment for the Arts concluded that literary reading was in serious decline on all fronts, especially among the youngest adults, ages 18 to 24, whose rate of decrease was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population.
I've wondered just how today's information overload would affect those young people who are growing up never having known an age when research involved trips to local libraries in order to find books on the shelves containing the searched-for information that then had to be written down on paper for future reference. Has the internet made attention deficit disorder a bigger problem than ever before? Have we become satisfied with only skimming the surface of research because it has become so easy to get the "X for Dummies" version of any subject on earth in just five minutes of scanning Google?
I refuse to believe that the death of books is imminent. I go to my local library most Saturday mornings and I find it packed with readers of all ages. Of course, much of the floor space in my two-story library has been given over to computers and stacks of DVDs, CDs and cassette tapes. But, despite this abundance of electronic media, I see dozens of books being taken from the library every week during my few minutes there. No, real books will always be with us despite the fact that Google is trying to digitize them all. Publishers will have to adapt to the new market conditions being forced on them by others, but they will survive.