In all of the discussion of e-books vs print books one fact is seldom stated - that with the rise of digital technology some kinds of books are becoming obsolete as the information they contain is freely available online in "non-book" form.
This reality has become apparent at PVLD as the Librarians have been taking a hard look at our "Reference Collection" - the fact- and data-rich, non-circulating, items that historically have been the "go to"resource to answer the array of questions that get asked at the Reference Desk or for which some combination of high cost and high demand mean that it made most sense for them to be readily available within the library rather than circulating. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs are good examples of the former, while the Value Line Investment service is a good example of the latter.
The Reference collection has proven fertile ground for cost-savings as with close scrutiny it has become apparent that many of the items in it contain information that is readily available online (either freely on the Internet or via the library's subscription databases) and simply aren't being used. We are saving thousands of dollars annually by no longer purchasing these items.
Even with that knowledge I was surprised by this post from The Clutter Diet blog suggesting that one day to reduce household clutter is to get rid of books that contain information readily available online. It wasn't the idea that you don't need to keep hard copies of some of these items that surprised me, it was the types of books included in the list.
On the one hand, I know from my own behavior that when I want to look something up - whether a fact, directions, a definition, a recipe, or how to do something the first place I turn is the Internet. That's how I found the recipe for the asparagus risotto I cooked last night, and a video showing how to prune our peach tree, and the directions to my last out-of-town meeting. The Internet works great when I have a specific question or a I know what I want to know, and I can easily see print almanacs, medical reference books, and repair manuals becoming obsolete.
With its user reviews and sophisticated algorithms that help provide recommendations tailored to my interests, I can also see the Internet making movie guides obsolete.
At the same time, I love browsing through cookbooks and the serendipity of coming across a recipe that I never would have thought to go look for but that sounds just delicious or flipping through a gardening book for ideas for my yard, and I have many childhood memories of turning to the encyclopedia for specific information for a homework assignment and discovering lots of other fascinating information in adjacent articles. I can't help but feel that life will be poorer if we think of information resources as just places to get the answers to specific questions.
Maybe e-books will offer the same kind of serendipitous browsing experience that flipping through a paper cookbook or opening an encyclopedia offers today, but I am having trouble imagining it. In the meantime my bulging shelves of cookbooks and gardening books will continue to be a source of great pleasure.
That said,if you want to take the advice to rid yourself of "obsolete" books just remember that our Friends of the Library would be happy to have any that are in usable condition for their book sales!