With the new look for the Maine InfoNet Download Library and the imminent update to the Overdrive Media Console app (bonus points if you are registered for the live webinar), it may be time to say a few words about e-books. (I am, of course, making the assumption that readers of this blog know what is an e-book, and why they are important to libraries.)
I’d be very hard-pressed to say anything particularly new or insightful on the subject, and even harder to say anything that won’t be rendered obsolete within a few months, except to make some very broad observations: there is a growing demand for e-books, the larger book publishers have reservations about selling e-books to libraries, and even librarians are finding ethical conundrums when dealing with e-books.
In many ways, e-books have become symbolic of the challenges facing libraries and librarians: an increasingly digital world where libraries are striving to meet demands despite tightening budgets and active competition from the private sector. In Maine, we’ve been very fortunate to have the Download Library (as supported by Overdrive to manage almost all of the technical hurdles), but then supporting patrons with their e-reader devices can be tough on smaller libraries with limited staff and technology training.
Many libraries are choosing a path forward. Some are trailblazing, such as the New York Public Library and the Douglas County Public Library, by negotiating directly with publishers. Most others are working with middleperson “aggregators” of e-books, like Overdrive, MyiLibrary, 3M Cloud Collection, and EBSCO eBooks (available through MARVEL!). Point is, it’s going to be hard for libraries not to do something about the trend toward e-books.
It’s not just libraries that are moving forward to the digital realm: education is facing a push to digitize textbooks due to the number of tablets among high-school and college students. It’s not hard to imagine how this trend will lift e-book demand even higher, as the generation of young digital natives grows into digital consumers. Not only that, but e-book readers will certainly result (and has, already) in more self-publication in e-book format.
Some have already imagined the “bookless” library, where each patron has his or her own tablet, and can browse, borrow, request and read everything in their library’s collection from anywhere. Others will forever maintain that the tangible collection can never be truly replaced. Where does your library fall on this spectrum, and how are you addressing the e-book question?