One Sunday evening in March, I joined several friends for our annual fantasy baesball draft (please don’t tell my wife, I told her I was going to a brothel). Somewhat surprisingly given the nature of the gathering, much of the conversation that evening focused on books. Little of it had to do with the fact that there was a librarian (well, two actually) in the room. Instead, the bulk of the conversation was driven by colleagues from the Office of Technology Services discussing books they had read on their ereaders.
|Electronic Book On The Street. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. Web. 18 Apr 2012.|
It turns out that I shouldn’t have been so surprised. According to a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, people who own ereaders read more books than the average American. The same study shows that people who own ereaders are also much more likely to buy their ebooks than to borrow them from the library. In this way too, my ereading fantasy baseball friends were typical. At one point someone even apologized to me for abandoning the library in favor of its competitor, the Amazon Kindle.
I can’t say that I blame the ereader crowd for not wanting to use the library. The current models for libraries lending ebooks treat ebooks as if they were physical objects, not digital ones. For example, libraries often license sinlgle concurrent user “copies” of ebooks, so that when an ebook is “checked out”, no other library patron can access it until it is “returned”. One pubisher even requires that ebook licenses expire after 27 uses, to mimic the fact paper copies of books typically wear out and need to be replaced after 27 circulations. (See E-Books are Easier to Borrow, Just be Prepared to Wait for a nice overview of some of the current models). In a digital world, these restctions make little sense, but one result is that there is a long wait before you can get a popular ebook from your library.
Libraries and publishers are grappling with models that make more sense in a digital world, yet still allow publishers to make money selling books. It is not clear what the future of library lending ebooks will look like, but Langsdale has begun to explore the format. We have a collection of ebooks, many of which can be “checked out” and loaded onto ereaders (but not, to my knowledge, Kindles). We also have a small, but growing collection of electronic reference books where the expectation is that people will not want to read the whole book, but may be interested in a shorter section that they can print out or read online. These make more sense as ebooks, given the models we currently have in place.
At the moment, printed books are still a big part of Langsdale’s collections, but we suspect that the demand for ebooks will continue to grow. As more and more students, staff and faculty come to purchase ereaders or tablets with ereader software, Langsdale will strive to keep up with demands as they change. It just might take awhile to do so in a way that doesn’t make you shake your head and wonder when libraries will start treating ebooks like the digital objects they are.