This may be a sign of the future: an Arizona high school is set to become one of the first ebook-only schools as it prepares to hand out laptops to 350 students this fall. The school will become the state's first all-wireless, all-laptop public school. The 350 students at the school will not have traditional textbooks. Instead, they will use electronic and online articles in place of printed textbooks.
The primary reason for the switch is to save money. Yes, even giving away free laptop computers to every student will reduce taxpayers' expenses. The cost for the laptops at Vail High School will be about $850 per student. That sounds like a lot until you consider that the same school has been paying $500 to $600 per student per year for traditional printed textbooks. Add in the expenses of printed lesson plans, printed homework assignments, and whatever else goes into the thousands of dollars the school department spends per year for photocopying equipment and paper, and you begin to see the opportunity to save money.
The school plans to supplement electronic versions of traditional textbooks with online articles assigned by teachers. You can read more about this progressive high school here.
At first, all of this sounds rather distant from genealogy. Then you begin to realize that the high school's move is being dictated by an opportunity to save money, and you wonder if the same lesson applies to other areas. Any place that depends heavily upon printed material is an opportunity to save money. Genealogists have been depending upon printed books for decades, supplemented by microfilm and microfiche (which isn't cheap either). Add in the logistical issues of genealogy research, such as trying to find a book near you, and you have an opportunity to streamline and economize.
After all, not everyone can afford to travel to the genealogy library that has the particular books of interest. I know that I have spent thousands in airfare, hotels, and meals traveling to Salt Lake City and other cities with significant genealogy libraries. I could have purchased several laptop computers with that amount of money! Even so, those trips probably cost less than purchasing all the books myself.
As more and more books become digitized, the opportunities for expense reduction improve dramatically. Most of our genealogy web sites have been focusing on databases containing transcripts of records. While valuable, perhaps the focus should be on digitizing the many genealogy books, both books of original records and the many family books, such as "The Descendants of John Smith." To be sure, HeritageQuest Online has done an excellent job of digitizing books, with more than 25,000 genealogy and local history books already available online. Ancestry.com has hundreds of books available as well.
I would suggest that now is the time for local genealogy societies and family surname societies to start digitizing a few books of interest to each society. The benefits will become astronomical as these books become available at little or no cost.
An annual subscription to even the highest-priced commercial service is still much cheaper than the round-trip airfare to Utah!