by Sarah Kosofsky

As most librarians are well aware, the massive change in the publishing industry from print to electronic is a fast one, but is by no means a quiet one.  Perhaps this is best seen on a busy subway platform in any major city, while people are reading as they wait for a train.  In a February Pew Survey, it was found that 19% of American adults were e-reader owners; In November, 2010, that number was 6%.

There are those out there who swear to never read a book from a Kindle or a Nook, saying that they will never stray from the tactile experience of flipping pages and bookmarking their pages with an actual bookmark.  There are others that say they like reading the traditional way but also enjoy the convenience and small size of e-readers.

The proliferation of e-readers has had a rather predictable pattern: every holiday season, there is a large increase in e-reader ownership, as the devices make popular presents.

How does the switch to digital affect libraries?  Take a look at our library budget report from last year.  As it turns out, libraries are way ahead of the electronic trend.  Even as many libraries face shrinking budgets, they spend more and more of their budget every year on electronic resources.  Since 2008, the percentage of book budgets spent on electronic books in all academic libraries has almost doubled every year.  Within academic libraries, the percentage of the serials budget spent on electronic resources has increased by about ten percent every year.

As many know, the quick shift to digital is beneficial for a few reasons, as illuminated in a recent NPR article featuring Stanford University and its libraries:

“For years, students have had to search through volume after volume of books before finding the right formula — but no more. [Helen] Josephine says that ‘with books being digitized and available through full text search capabilities, they can find that formula quite easily.’”

Rather than needing to go to the index to find mentions of a word or phrase, in most cases one can simply press Ctrl with F to find what they are looking for.

As libraries increase the percentage of their journal and serial collections that are electronic, there has also been an increase in the amount of library material that is downloadable for those who have e-readers.  According to the ALA’s “State of America’s Libraries” 2012 report, that increase is 67%.  In addition, the ALA says that 28% of libraries provide e-readers for checkout.

With the current trend of switching to digital, it should be interesting to see how long it takes before print subscriptions are rendered completely obsolete.

How do you see the electronic/print change in your library or business? What do you think the future holds for print materials?