Sunday, August 12, 2012

Take Your Due-Date Slips Back, Ebooks

Sarah, the Librarian in Black, had a post a bit ago on how she's "breaking up with" ebooks, which she argues have been like a bad boyfriend/girlfriend for libraries: promising more than is delivered, ignoring our needs, acting all charming to win us over and then turning into a jerk, etc.

She makes the argument that 'we in libraries are actually doing a disservice by offering what’s "barely good enough." We give people the false impression that they can get their eBooks through their libraries.'

This is an interesting point. If all we can offer is a bad ebook service, maybe we're better off not even saying "we have ebooks!" at all--it's not as if that money couldn't be spent elsewhere.

And it's true that libraries can't offer every format for everything. We can lend movies, but (in most cases) not in the 35 mm reels you'd need to project them in your private large-screen theater.

Maybe we could likewise just say, we lend books, but not in the electronic format you'd need to read them on your tablet.

There's a difference, obviously, in that most people have no desire to borrow 35 mm film canisters, while many people probably would like to borrow ebooks, but hey--if the publishers won't grant licenses libraries can work with, what can we do?

As I've noted before, the library where I work has stayed mainly out of the ebook fray by purchasing items you read online at the publisher's website, rather than ones that are downloaded to some other server or device, but it sounds as if that model is a lot more available for academic texts than popular works, so is not a viable option for public libraries trying to make sure everyone who wants it gets the latest bestseller in a timely fashion.

We could call it the "only offer ebooks no one wants to read" approach?

But that's not fair to our perfectly nice electronic titles: it's not that no one wants to read them (well, it probably is for some of them), just that they have a very specific and fairly small audience compared to popular novels and such.

In any case, I could certainly see how breaking up with ebooks could be an unfortunate, not-especially-crowd-pleasing option that would nevertheless be the best move for a library.

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