We are all certainly aware of what traditional libraries are and how useful they can be, since they contain billions of book volumes with information literally about everything. When I was studying at the university, I used to visit libraries all the time, at least 4 times a week, since this was actually the only way I could find info for my research. Buying all those hundreds of books that I needed was actually not an option for me, because of the high cost.
That was actually about 20 years ago, when the internet was just beginning to be used by the general public. This meant that the software we used at that time in computers had a lot of limitations and several bugs, and most importantly that there was yet very little content to be found online. I remember that we also had an issue with using the internet, since our professors did not really like the mentioned sources in our projects to be online.
For all that reasons we didn’t really use the internet mush for our research and projects. On the other hand, I remember very well that digital libraries were starting to show up back then. It was mid to late late 90’s as I recall.
From printed books to e-books
Digital libraries offer digital data to their readers, who can actually view, copy-paste and print whatever they want with the help of a personal computer. These digital libraries can be just a couple of computer servers, do not expect tremendous buildings with thousands of digital books. In fact, anyone can theoretically set up a computer as a digital library server if he has digitized material to offer.
Older books are usually digitized in order to be included in a digital library collection. This means that they are scanned page by page, and specialized software recognizes letters and words and creates a digital copy of the book. As you can image this is a very complicated and slow method of digitization but it’s the only way in some cases.
When I was still a university student, my school started a similar digitization project. Many students, including me, used hand scanners and table scanners to scan and digitize books. Our project included digitizing the books that had been written and published by the professors of our own university, after copyright issues were first resolved. We also digitized hundreds of reports and other documents.
As I mentioned before, computers and computer software were very buggy and slow at that time, which slowed down the process considerably. I remember that in 3-4 hours a student could digitize no more than a 500-page book. I assume things must be much better 20 years later, but the process is still very demanding. This is how my school created its digital library, that allowed access to its own students only, and I presume that something similar happened to all digital libraries.
Surpassing traditional libraries
With time, more books are added to these digital collections that are growing in numbers, therefore digital libraries are becoming more practical. I haven’t used digital libraries much during the last few years but know from friends and family that they are widely used students nowadays. Some of them even refrain from physical books and traditional libraries and solely use digital libraries for their need.
The last few generations use technology and computers far more than we used to therefore prefer digital libraries to traditional ones, as I do for example, who consider myself a bit older (well I’m still under 40 but there is still a small generation gap in that area I think).
Even though I do not use digital libraries much, since my university years and studies ended many years ago, I can see that digital libraries are a very popular trend. Only in Greece, digital libraries that are open to the public are now dozens. If you are interested in foreign bibliography then things are even better, since one can find thousands of digital libraries around the world.
In my opinion traditional libraries are still needed, they haven’t yet been fully replaced by digital libraries. This of course could just be a matter of time…