Issues of access and technical skill aside, electronic materials have a huge practical advantage in terms of storage space and use (easier to search for and to search within the text). As users grow more and more comfortable with accessing electronic information, there seems little reason to turn back to the physical. While there may be a fondness for print, a sentimentality for the smell of old books and holding a new novel in one’s hand for the first time, electronic materials are also growing increasingly user friendly. Although e-books are not yet be the preferred format for American readers, Anderson provides a short laundry list of necessary improvements such as “instant on-off, no boot-up time, high-contrast, high-resolution, jump instantly to a chapter or bookmark, durability, storage, up to 50 gigs to accommodate multimedia, compatibility with all networks, integrated animation and video, and acceptable digital rights management and intellectual property protection” (Anderson, 2009, p. 75). Most of those features seem well within the grasp of a few more years of technological development, with the exception of the tall order for acceptable digital rights management.
In the past few centuries, as print became more practical and copyright laws grew to protect not only the work of the creator but the investments of industry, ownership of content has been increasingly divested from the hands of the consumer. Now that we are returning to a more interactive media culture, precisely which content can be owned is becoming increasingly nebulous. It seems as though we are on the brink of major decisions which could either change the culture of publishing and producing or could put a price point on each line of text. Exactly how it will all shake out will be very interesting to watch. Libraries must not only work to provide the best current access to quality resources, they must preserve that access for the future. Libraries act as a reservoir of knowledge, holding information to quench the thirst of patrons. If costs continue to increase, if copyright and ownership tighten down to charge per use, if resources can be taken away or leveraged at the whim of the distributor, libraries could face astronomical costs.
And what if all our wonderful technological infrastructure goes south? In a bleak depiction of the collapse of our world due to over population and exhaustion of our natural resources, primarily petroleum, Hecker describes a secular return to the monastic libraries of the dark ages. He envisions academic libraries, perhaps in conjunction with public libraries, as precious repositories of pre-collapse culture and information. In his future, library staff will band together to conserve physical materials, which will be the non-renewable resources of the post digital society. While his dire warnings may never come to pass, it is worthwhile to think of the consequences of digital collapse, as so many other articles speak only of the infinite possibilities of technology.