There is a romance to the idea of libraries. They are like churches, places to visit where ancient and wonderful things are housed. There will probably always be libraries. However, physical collections of documents in business or scientific institutions can often be supplemented or replaced by collections in digital format. The number of digitally archived pages has increased every year, from some 40 billion pages in 2005 to over 400 billion pages in 2014.
Physical handling of paper documents and less than perfect storage limits the life of books. Eventually, they can become illegible. Digital documents are immune to physical damage of that kind. They can be reproduced in any quantity and stored in many locations to assure their longevity.
The average book-length document takes less than a megabyte of computer bandwidth. Entire libraries of books can be stored in a single system the size of an e-reader. Automatic book scanners can safely render books into digital files at the rate of about a second a page, full volumes in five minutes or less. With the mass data storage potential of cloud servers and big data networking, the capability is vast.
Documents stored in digital format will contain all of the content of the original document and can be supplemented with interactive graphics and video content. These documents will be available to all authorised users and can be accessed anywhere your computer network can reach them.
The book collection can be searchable and indexed so that information can be located easily. The software can enable searchers to find content not only within volumes but across volumes to vastly speed topical study. Full-text searching is viable for small collections but becomes impractical for larger collections. Keyword searches can search among indexed topics. Field-restricted searches can speed searches within specified fields, like title, author, or subject. Modern search software allows the use of Boolean operators like “and,” “or” and “not” in searches.
Various kinds of indexing can be built into a digital library to make volume searches easy. The Dewey Decimal system which has been the classic library system for library book locating since it was invented in the 1870s can still be built into to digital library indexing. Newer indexing systems such as the Yahoo or Excite category systems, or locally developed proprietary schemes for corporate libraries can also be incorporated.