What’s the plan?

When anyone can buy an eBook reader and load it with all of the classics for 50$?

Library

Library

I watched the LITA Top Tech Trends panel at ALA 2010 and this question, among many others, piqued my interest. This one caught my attention because I think it is something that will really affect us in the very near future. Jason Griffey brought this topic up during the discussion and I’ll do my best to paraphrase. The recent drop in price in the Kindle and Nook is paving the way for even cheaper eBook readers. It won’t be long until these devices, once pretty expensive, are almost a ‘disposable’ item. Maybe as soon as next year we will be able to purchase one for 50$! Maybe not. But they are only going to get cheaper. Ok?

Many of the classics of western literature are in the public domain and can be found for free. (The Kobo eReader comes loaded with 100 classics) Anyone could buy an eBook reader, load it with tons of really good books without setting foot in a library. How do libraries adjust to a time when a student’s summer reading list can be (mostly) fulfilled from home without (after the initial eBook reader purchase) spending any money? What will change? Will we need to buy paperback versions of classics? Should we? How much do libraries spend on paperback classics every year? Personally, I think it would be great to not have to buy all those paperbacks. We could buy some really nice hardback versions of the classics for the people who want to read them on paper.

Aside from the probable reduction in paperback budgets this will cause, what else will happen to libraries? How will we adjust? What will we do when people no longer think ‘Library’ when they want a classic book? Not to mention inexpensive magazines, newspapers and new books. What will we do when eBook readers are so ubiquitous that ‘real’ books are the exception? What will our priorities be then? What adjustments do we have to make?

I don’t have any answers. I just have questions. Lots of them. I’ll keep asking.

Further reading:

the Strange Librarian

Wall Street Journal

LibraryLaw Blog

PLA Blog

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4 comments

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention What’s the plan? « Matt Phillips -- Topsy.com
  2. George Taylor

    My first thought…there is nothing quite like a book! And some books do not translate well into the “E” category: photography, cookbooks, decorating…

    Working in public libraries for over 20 years, I have come to realize a major point: most people that use us are the “have nots” or technically challenged. Many of our patrons do use our computers, but we have just as many checking out books. And they are the people that won’t want to pay $9.00 for an e-title. E-books are aimed at a specific clientele, and most of them do not use the library.

    Great thoughts, though!

    • Matt

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments George. I agree that public libraries serve a lot of the “have nots” and that current e-books don’t translate well with certain types of books. But what do we do when e-books are cheap and easy to use? So anyone can afford one and my mother can download a book without assistance. The display technology probably will only get better so that they will be able to display photography etc well (have you seen the Blio eReader? It’s not out yet but the potential…) My feeling is that these developments will happen relatively quickly. I’m just trying to get my head around what we could, should, will do if/when books are no longer our primary business model. I don’t feel that I have a strong grasp on the whole subject and I’m trying my best to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. There are many possibilities.

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