Editorial Board 2000-2001
The University of Western Ontario Library system's move towards the proliferation of on-line resources raises some serious questions about the future of books, on-campus and otherwise.
Using the Internet as a resource tool is no longer uncommon, and many students are necessarily well aware of the benefits of an Internet search for sources. For many reasons, the placement of statistics, analyses and critical research findings on the Internet are of pure benefit to students and researchers.
For starters, the Internet makes stuff more accessible. A study on the Net that was previously only available in a finite number of copies can theoretically be read by as many people as are interested. All that is required is a computer with on-line access.
Further, the speed at which the Internet can locate the desired resources has made a physical trip to the shelves a thing of the past. The days when students would have to grab a flashlight and spelunk into the bowels of their campus library in search of a study are starting to disappear.
There is also an environmental aspect to putting findings on-line. Whereas research findings would have required copious amounts of paper to make them available to students, having the stuff on the Net shortens the supply chain by taking the printing step out entirely. Now, a student who needs resources can print out the few pages they need, or can simply copy and paste the pertinent stats or quotes.
So, with all the good things that come with resource materials' posting on the Internet, can students of the future expect their academic years to be sans-books in their conventional form? Will hard or soft-cover books one day become completely obsolete? It seems that only time will tell, and that the answer will largely depend on the types technology that come about.
But ask any student how they feel about reading text on-screen as opposed to text in a book and you'll undoubtedly find that people prefer the latter. There's a portability aspect to it all you can read on the bus or on the toilet seat if you want but there's also an inherent need readers have to be able to touch and feel the stuff they're reading. Tangibility rates high, and high-tech companies have probably taken this into consideration for next-generation interfaces.
The future of the printed word is something that will profoundly impact all of society, not just scholars and academic types. A mass exodus of the printed word to the land of 1s and 0s will require the general populace to possess computer skills, and that is clearly not the case right now, although we are moving in that direction.
What is clear at the moment is that the proliferation of on-line resources instead of printed material in the world of academia is something of benefit to us all.