I suspect it’s somewhat overblown, but this Denver Post article points to an interesting trend:

There are 53 DVD copies of “Pirates of the Caribbean’ on the shelf.

Videotapes might be on the wane, but you can get “Finding Nemo’ for VHS in Spanish.

And the front counter may charge you a buck a movie.

This is not the corner video store. It’s the local branch of your public library.

The good news for movie fans is that their local library looks more and more like a Blockbuster.

The ominous news for book fans is the same: As budget-squeezed public libraries rush to buy DVDs for an insatiable public, branches must act more like multimedia centers and less like temples of the printed page.


Most librarians say they aren’t inclined to waste time waxing nostalgic about books. Library credos, local and national, proclaim the goal of providing information to all, with no bias in favor of the book.

“The library is about people,’ said Ann Cress, associate director of public services at Jefferson County. “We try to build the collection that our population wants.’

“So many of us are attached to the text, and the paper, and the binding. It’s so tactile,’ said Beth Elder, senior collection specialist for Denver Public Library. “But many of our customers are leaving text behind.’

How people want information is a shift requiring ever-faster adaptation by libraries and their collections, Elder said. Patrons still want practical help in tiling a bathroom or researching African animals. But they’re not looking for a book.

I’d like to see aggregate data on this, but the move away from books isn’t surprising. Unlike computerized sources, they aren’t easily searchable. They quickly become dated; indeed, for some current affairs topics, they’re literally OBE even before they’re published. And I say this as someone whose livelihood is in the book publishing business.

What I do find somewhat disturbing–again, if a true of reflection of reality rather than gross overgeneralization by a reporter–is the displacement of books by video. While I understand it in terms of recreation–with more of us spending our work hours reading, if mainly from a computer screen, reading a novel might seem a little too much like work–it would be a serious problem if it’s also happening with non-fiction. Video requires far more time to transfer a given amount of information and almost invariably sacrifices important detail as a result.

FILED UNDER: Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.