Is print reference becoming obsolete?

Lately I notice that as I walk past my juvenile reference shelves, I increasingly think of it as an awful lot of money tied up in books which aren’t used very often. I’m sure there are books there that go an entire year without being touched. Obviously, that’s partly a staff issue–like everyone else, we’ve fallen into the habit of going to the Internet first and not quite getting around to checking the print resources. Using a powerful search engine can be a lot less frustrating than looking through indexes for a piece of information that might be a needle in a haystack. I remember once trying to help a boy with his assignment where he was supposed to find a number of different animals associated with Texas. After trying to demonstrate how wonderful books were but not finding the information, I put in three keywords together in Google and found exactly what he needed.

The problem with online reference sources is that they are also a lot of money, may not get used that much, and disappear once your subscription is over. At least print materials stick around to look pretty on your shelves, and so you look like a Real Library. So I’m not sure what to do. Perhaps the best solution at this point is to promote the sheer appeal of juvenile print reference materials. The pictures are sumptuous, the design usually very sleek and appealing, and there are subjects to appeal to every interest. Best of all, they are something that you can sit down with for just a few minutes, open it anywhere, and learn something new!

What are other libraries doing with their juvenile print reference? Holding steady, buying more, or cutting back? Are you buying online resources to make up for it?

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