It is beyond question the introduction of the Internet into our lives has brought more benefits than negatives.
It has surely cut the cost of communication and transport and facilitated speedy decision-making.
In fact to those who have access to it, it has made life exciting and somewhat contributed to empowerment and the development of some communities.
However, despite all these positives, there are still concerns from the library and academicfraternity.
In the early 2000s, most librarians were concerned the Internet was threatening the existence of the libraries and the professions of librarians.
These arguments even delayed Google’s expansion of its vast digital library in 2009 arguing that, it would kill the book, render thousands of librarians jobless and deny access to knowledge to those who could not afford online subscriptions.
Politically, it was argued the deal would make Google a ring-leader of the literary cartel that wielded too much power in the knowledge industry and control over prices of digital books.
In fact, most of the arguments bordered on power and commercial interests by other competitors than saving libraries and enhancing access.
For a progressive librarian or any advocate of reading culture, it is mundane to think of a library as a physical collection of books in this day and age.
While access to the Internet remains limited, it is beyond doubt Internet has enhanced access to a wide collection of virtual knowledge worldwide.
As part of its defence, Google argued it was better to have a one-stop virtual centre for those who had access to the Internet by pooling together millions of books scattered across the world which would be inaccessible to most readers.
It is no doubt that in Africa knowledge and research are central to development and therefore imperative for libraries to playing a leading role especially in research and development.
One way of doing that is to stop whining about lack of a reading culture when most people spend the better part of their time reading on the Internet.
The starting point would be to move away from the traditional and conservative attitude to information sharing.
While paper may be irreplaceable anytime soon, signs are on the wall a physical book is faced with a number of threats, from the Internet itself to the environmental activism.
The only way out is to adapt to these new developments than be behind the library counters.
Virtual libraries give users access to billions of latest books and papers across the world at affordable cost than this physical book.
It is better to provide access to wide collection of materials to those who can access Internet.
For a reader nothing can defeat or is as plausible as having access to reading materials round the clock from anywhere in the world — so librarians shape them.
Africa is hungry for knowledge.
Meanwhile, research shows where a reading culture does not exist, the Internet has not contributed to increased literacy levels even in developed countries.
Recent study in Sweden found out people spend more of their leisure time on the Internet, a suggestion the Internet might be replacing the time people reserved for reading what are now old-fashioned books are.
Another study on mobile telecommunications study showed Africa had the fastest growing mobile telephone market in the world perhaps evidence of a growing Internet user base.
But the Swedish study showed some very interesting trends on how Internet impacts on the literacy levels of a society in these techno-times.
A University of Gothenburg study in Sweden concluded reading skills of children in countries where computer use had increased during leisure time such as the United States and Sweden had suffered as a result because most of the times children were playing games instead of reading.
The study shows the entry of computers into the home has contributed to changing children’s habits in such a manner that their reading does not develop to the same extent as previously.
“By comparing countries over time we can see a negative correlation between change in reading achievement and change in spare time computer habits which indicates that reading ability falls as leisure use of computers increases,” announced Monica Rosén the head of the study.
In other countries it seems reading skills have improved, but writing skills have declined. This is because social media has allowed a relaxed or rather reckless writing culture where people are no longer bothered about writing correctly.
To become a good writer one needs to practice daily, but then when people get used to the habit of writing in slang and taking shortcuts such as “ill c u 2morow” their writing ability gradually deteriorates as that becomes part of one writing culture.
It seems there is a more preoccupation with communicating in the shortest writing than spelling and grammar.
And this has to some extent found itself in examination answer sheets resultantly crippling people’s business writing skills.
Overall, there is no doubt about benefits the Internet brings to human life.
A true professional stays on top of their game and consistently looks to expand their knowledge.
It’s done by reading proper books, whether online or physical.