From the Editor… The Paperless Society … Not Quite Yet

Kohl, David F.
May 2004
Journal of Academic Librarianship;May2004, Vol. 30 Issue 3, p177
Academic Journal
The article reflects on the impact of digital technology on libraries. Perhaps nowhere has there been more surprises for librarians than in the effect of technology on libraries. In 1980, for example, when the digital revolution was just beginning to take hold in widespread and major ways in libraries, Wilf Lancaster became widely known for suggesting the advent of the paperless society in his book The Impact of a Paperless Society on the Research Library of the Future. While digital technology in libraries moved dramatically ahead in the following years, nothing close to a paperless society emerged. In fact, quite the opposite happened. It turned out that one of the major uses of computers was to increase the amount of printed paper-both at the corporate level in the production of books and at the individual level in printing out of almost anything that took more than one screen to display. A second example of logical, but ultimately flawed, prediction of some consequence to libraries in the technological arena has to do with the Beta versus VHS debate. It is in the light of such a track record that I have been musing about how digital technology might affect books. Clearly, caution is the first lesson we should draw from the kind of experiences mentioned above; but beyond that, it seems to me that there has been an excessive reliance on a too simple and straightforward logic in extrapolating future trends.


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