The first thing you will see in the shiny new $45 million Cedar Rapids Public Library downtown is vast, wide-open spaces.
Stand in the main entryway and you can view impressive polished floors and a great, high ceiling. Ahead along the stairway is a wall that glows.
You’ll spy banks of computer stations and racks of DVDs. And a coffee bar.
What you won’t notice right away are books.
Oh, it has books — by which I mean rectangles of paper with words and occasionally pictures, bound together for easy, tactile use. The CRPL has replaced more than 160,000 books and other items that were lost or damaged beyond repair in the 2008 flood, bringing its new total to 225,000 books (paper and electronic), DVDs and CDs, officials say.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m a fan of the library, and I understand that every business needs to respond to its marketplace.
Some might wonder if this a mile marker on the road to that long-touted paperless society of the future. (I, for one, am still waiting for my own personal jet pack.)
And if it is, how should we feel about that?
Look around your office when you get in tomorrow morning. How many telephone books do you see? Dictionaries, printed personnel directories or safety manuals? Binders crammed with sheets of paper?
And here’s this: On Sept. 10 International Paper Co., which has cardboard operations in Cedar Rapids, announced that next year it would close an Alabama paper mill, which boasts an annual production capacity of 950,000 tons. CEO John Faraci said the decision was due to a decline in demand for paper.
And this: Johnson County Clerk of Court Kim Halverson, who took office in June, made a name for herself, in part, by converting Marshall County to a nearly paperless system last year.
She means to move Johnson County to the Electronic Document Management System by sometime next year, Halverson told The Gazette in August.
The state began shifting counties to EDMS three years ago. By the end of this year, some 40 percent of all documents filed in Iowa courts will be done electronically.
All counties are set to be electronic in 2016.
We can appreciate the benefit of electronic text — be they court records or Charles Dickens: easier, quicker access and sharing from just about anywhere. And less lugging around of cumbersome volumes, binders or textbooks to the courtroom, classroom or the beach.
Moreover, common sense tells us we all should be on the side of trees, and the oxygen they produce.
Also out the window will be pens, highlighters, paperclips and sticky notes.
We won’t miss the clutter, though we might be trading in overstuffed briefcases and backpacks and aching shoulders for an uptick in repetitive stress syndrome — from plucking at ever-shrinking keyboards — and twitch-inducing eye fatigue — from staring at unnatural light.
But, in fact, we might not really be much farther along the highway to that promised land of a paperless world. The International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., reports paper used by printers alone dropped by a scant 1.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, to 2.98 trillion pages. Yes, that’s trillion with a big T.
Moreover, the IDC forecasts paper volume use for printers to remain relatively flat through 2017.
So we’re not there yet, and who knows if we’ll ever live in a world without even a scrap of paper.
Better strap on our jet packs, though, just in case.