Posts tagged ‘ebooks’
This is a nice, clear explanation of how libraries are getting short shrift as publishers try to negotiate the ebook marketplace.
Sorry for the delay in posting this. Like everyone else on the planet I got sucked into Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I’m a librarian, it goes with the territory! I’ll try to post a review at a later date, but now, back to our regularly scheduled program…
Based on my last post, you might think I’m going to tell you it’s time to ditch the Library Bill of Rights, or something. I’m not. I still believe that freedom of access to information is a necessity, and a durable core value. But I do think we’re in for a rough ride over the next few years, and that some of the things we have long associated with libraries may not be as durable as we think they are.
Here’s one example: privacy. This is another core value for libraries, and again, I think it still has merit. But our society is changing drastically on this issue. People are willingly sacrificing their privacy for increased connection to others. I’ve talked about this a bit on this blog, and I suspect it will be an ongoing topic for me. I think libraries still have a duty to protect the privacy of our customers, but what does that look like say, 5 years from now, when customers may not only have the ability to save their reading history in our system, but to share it with others? When some customers choose to make their information public, does that erode our ability to protect the privacy of others? In theory, it shouldn’t, but in practice it might. As the expectations of our customers morph, we may have a different role to play. I can imagine that there may come a time when lives lived fully in public are the norm and people think our protective measures are officious and unnecessary. What then? Do we stand our ground or move with the current of prevailing thought?
Here’s an even bigger shift for libraries: Amazon.com recently reported that ebook sales have outpaced hardback sales for the past three months, and that trend appears to be increasing. That’s HUGE. In a relatively short period of time, ebooks have taken hold and carved out a significant portion of the book market. And Amazon expects ebook sales to outpace paperback sales sometime this year. This has tremendous repercussions for libraries.
Most libraries, whether public, academic or private, are built in large part to store and provide access to physical books and other materials. Our facilities are designed for this purpose. Our Integrated Library System software is designed for this purpose. Our policies and procedures and a good portion of our work are designed to manage and further this purpose. How quickly is that going to change? I don’t know. I know we’ll have some time to transition, that there will be demand for printed books even after ebooks become the dominant format. But this is a much bigger shift than deciding when to stop ordering VHS tapes and focus on DVDs. How are we going to handle it? Are we prepared to make that transition at all? Most librarians I know have a VERY strong attachment to books that is deeper than just sentiment or nostalgia. Will we be able to transition along with our communities, or will we have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, away from our beloved print books? (And this is actually an optimistic scenario, assuming that the authors, publishers, retailers and libraries will be able to work out ebook rights that will allow libraries to offer free and easy access to customers. The options we have right now are not great. What if libraries get cut out of the mix entirely and DON’T have a viable way to offer free and easy ebook access to customers?).
And what about our buildings? If you are fortunate enough to be building or remodeling a library right now, and you want that building to be viable for 10-15 years or more, you have to consider now how the building might be used if we shift our collection focus primarily toward electronic formats. Do we want to merely adapt spaces that were meant to store physical materials, or can we envision a flexible space now that allows us to adapt every couple of years to changing needs? I’m concerned that we are too locked in – if we’re all using the same 3 library furniture vendors, where is the innovation going to come from?
This is partly what I meant when I quoted Annie Dillard in my last post. I’ve been walking around my library lately, just trying to picture it without most or all of the book stacks and I’m having a really hard time. I consider myself an “idea person” but this one has me a bit stumped. I think I’m generally very open to change and am a fan of ebooks, so I don’t live in constant terror of the great ebook takeover. But I still have a hard time conceiving a library that’s not built on books. Books are a “bearing wall” in our library, as in most others. They are part of our identity. I’m not sure I’m prepared to kick that wall out!
I know that we have a rough road ahead, and pretty soon we’re going off-road entirely and the ride will get even bumpier. We are working hard just to keep our seats, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for looking ahead and trying to see what’s around the next bend. It’s a good thing, then, that we’ve sent out our scouts…
A few more links for you to check out while I keep working on The Post That Has No End:
- Kathy Gould on libraries and local economies, part 1/part 2
- Reading speed study: iPad, Kindle, and print books
- Michael Wade makes a good point about firing offenses
Hope to post something more substantial this weekend.
I’ve continued to follow ebook developments over the past few months, and I’m really curious to see how the new Sony Reader that’s coming out in December and the Barnes & Noble reader stack up against the Kindle. Both have some intriguing features. Barnes & Noble’s Nook (kind-of a lame name) has a really nice-looking dual screen. The Sony Reader Daily Edition uses the EPUB format and will also be compatible with Overdrive ebooks – how cool for libraries! However, I’ve had such a positive experience reading ebooks on my iPhone that I doubt I’ll bother investing money in a stand-alone reader. It would just be one more unnecessary item to carry around. That’s becoming increasingly true of print books as well. On an experience level, I still say I prefer print books to ebooks. But over the past several months I’ve read a lot more ebooks than print books.
Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I compared my ebook downloads with my reading history at the library. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve downloaded 30 books to my phone. Of those titles, I stopped reading one because I didn’t like it. Four are still in “to-read” status. I’m in the process of reading two right now, and I’ve finished 23.
In the same period of time, I’ve checked out 42 books from the library. Of those, I completely finished four. There were nine others (mostly parenting books), that I checked out in order to read only a particular section of interest. I got what I wanted out of the book, even though I didn’t read it cover to cover. I’ll count those as finished, too, which brings my total up to 13. The rest I started and didn’t finish.
I’ve finished about 76% of the ebooks I’ve downloaded, but only about 31% of the print books. I always check the library collection first because I like to read for free as much as possible, so there’s a slight bias there. I’m unlikely to purchase a book unless I’m sure I want to read it. However, almost all of the unfinished books on my print list are books I still want to read – the issue wasn’t that I checked out a bunch of stuff I didn’t really want, it’s just that it’s more convenient for me these days to read books on my phone so I’m a lot more likely to finish a book in that format. The comparison was revealing – I knew I was reading a lot of ebooks, but I didn’t realize the shift had been so dramatic.
I used to be an ebook skeptic. I’ve been a big believer in the affordances of paper, and as a lifelong reader I thought the emotional appeal of printed books was too strong, that ebooks would never be able to get significant market share because that obstacle was too big. I figured there might be a niche market for textbooks and professional journals – things which are expensive to produce and expensive to buy – but I was convinced that fiction ebooks would not really take hold until we had used up all the trees and exhausted the paper supply.
And then I got an iPhone and had a baby.
One of the hardest transitions of my first few months as a mother was the lack of reading time. Yes, babies sleep, but usually when they do you’re either trying to sleep yourself or frantically trying to accomplish something before the baby wakes up. I found that I had little pockets of time while trying to get the baby to sleep or during the middle of the night when I was trying and failing to get back to sleep myself, but I couldn’t manage a regular book while I was holding the baby. Then I heard about the Kindle app for the iPhone. People, it changed my life.
I can hold the iPhone and navigate the books with one hand, no problem. The screen is bright enough to read by in a dark room, but not bright enough to disturb the baby. Best of all, I always have books with me, wherever I am. I used to choose purses based on their ability to hold at least one book in addition to all my other gear, but now I always have a selection of books on my phone, and can easily download another if needed so I never run out of reading material. I now use two different reading apps – the Kindle app and Stanza. Yes, I pay for new content, but there are also plenty of public domain books that are available for both apps for free. I can bookmark significant passages and go back to them later. I can adjust the text size according to my preference. Sure, it’s easier to flip back and forth between sections in a printed book, but I’m finding that the benefits of the ebook format far outweigh the inconveniences. In short, I’m sold.
In a professional capacity, I’m also very intrigued by some of the collaborative options that are becoming available for online books (CommentPress, BookGlutton) and by new publishing models (Free). The long-term implications for libraries are going to be huge. But ultimately it comes down to the question: “does this work for me?” Surprised as I am, for me the answer is a resounding “yes”!