Treasure or Trash? That's the question
The other day my professor gave me a cart of old books and journals which were apparently of no use to him. He claimed that "they were a gift for you". Although I suspected that his real motive was to find a free laborer to dump his trash, I accepted the books in a slim hope that any interesting books/journals might among them.
The books are now in my office; the majority of them are urban planning journals and TRB journals ranging from 1992 until 2003, plus a bag of coffee which expired a few days ago. Nowadays almost all these articles can be found online easily. So here is the question, what is the value of hard-copy journals when most of the articles are on-line, considering our increasingly limited physical storage space? While knowledge is treasure, the physical old journals--when the words in them can be easily carried on in our computers, cell phones, and PDAs with no effort--are de facto of very limited value. E-journals also save the printing cost and are environmentally-friendly. The exceptions are, but not limited to, the handbooks that you may want to reference frequently.
So computer does have changed the world and the way people live. I remember when I was young, a remarkable sign of being a scholar is having a lot of books in his/her study or office. But now the sign may have changed.
Of course, another topic is whether the academic articles should be accessed for free. This has been a debate in academia and publishing houses, concerning the distribution of interests and the conflicts between the for-profit goals and non-profit ones. I am not in a good position to cover this topic, but it is definitely an interesting one worth pursuing.