Back in 2005, OCLC released a report on user’s perception of their libraries, and the word that came back most often was “books.” It then became a clarion call to promote our digital collections, which admittedly are very handy.
But I think something got lost in the bargain. Our uniqueness. Many of our digital collections are somebody else’s. They carry the message of their publisher, not of the library. There are exceptions, but one EBSCO database (sorry, the first one that came to mind) looks like another, and sometimes their image doesn’t reflect our values, it reflects the publisher’s.
The idea that “books,” not “information” or “access” or “democracy” upset a lot of people in libraries. But what books really brought to the table is their meaning as objects: they are demanding, but they reward in-depth interaction in ways that other resources don’t. I think libraries misread this and started considering books as old and musty, not as powerful indicators of engagement with ideas.