My take on the eBook Summit – Part 2

This is a continuation from Part 1.

The first break out session I attended was Ebook “What If’s”: Issues that Impact Scenario Planning with Bobbi Newman, Matt Hamilton, Sarah Houghton-Jan and Josh Hadro. This session asked three well respected technology librarians some “What If…” questions to see what they thought may happen.

The first question was “What if there is a Google Information terminal in each library?” This is in reference to the Google book settlement reached last year. Part of the settlement states that public libraries can have free access to the works in Google Books…but only on one machine. This is a simplified definition but it’s about right. What would this mean to libraries? Sarah Houghton-Jan answered this question first and nailed it. The said that public libraries would not see much change and that having only machine being able to access this database was going back to the CD Rom days. The idea that all of this information is locked on one machine only doesn’t really make sense to people these days. I agree. Of course you could pay for access but that wasn’t the question. The other two agreed. Bobbi Newman brought up a good point. In smaller libraries where there are few computers having one dedicated to one thing would cause a bit of hassle. Imagine having someone working on a resume being asked to move so someone could access the Google Book database. Who wins? I feel bad for the staffer who has to make that call.

The next question was “What if the price of eReaders is zero?” Matt Hamilton answered this one first and brought up something I found very interesting. Training staff on how to use the devices will be damn hard. There will probably be many different devices and they will all have different interfaces, formats etc. This will be challenging. This doesn’t even take into account the affect it will have on our collections. What do we do when someone can get their summer reading list on their device without leaving their house, most of it for free? This will also affect our technology infrastructure. If people did come to the library to download books, how would our bandwidth hold up? Yikes! Something I learned in this session was that CVS will be selling an eReaders and netbooks very soon.

The next question was “What if the DRM issue went away tomorrow?” Digital Rights Management is the scourge of digital media and is one of the reasons eBooks are so tricky. Bobbi Newman answered this question. We would need to increase our digital collection quickly and figure out a way to make downloading the book to a preferred device easier. I agree and I’d add that I’m less concerned about DRM as I am about being able to easily download something to my device. I don’t want to have to plug my device into a computer to get new content. Maybe that’s why the Kindle is doing so well?

The next session I attended was Ebooks and the Library user Experience with Rebecca Miller, Michael Bills, Jean Costello, Joshua M. Greenberg and Aaron Schmidt. I’m just going to go with some quotes I wrote down from this session because, honestly, my brain was about full at this point.

“Which crumbles first: the publishing industry or library budgets?” (Greenberg) I’m thinking library budgets go first. The publishers are way ahead of us in eBooks and they pretty much hold all the cards. They produce the content, own the copyright and with digital copies will control the terms of service that govern use of their material. So, yeah, we have an uphill battle.

“The eBook ship has sailed and libraries are not on it.” (Schmidt) He used the example of libraries debating whether or not to lend VHS tapes years ago. While we were busy debating an entire industry sprung up. How to interpret this? Do we build another ship? Do we swim like mad to catch up?  I don’t know. I was hoping someone presenting at the summit would have some ideas.

“Libraries need to be less like supermarkets and more like kitchens.” (Schmidt) I take this to mean that we need to focus less on having a lot of things on our shelves and more on being a place for people to create. I’m getting the feeling that in the not-too-distant future our libraries will consist of tables, study rooms, high-speed wifi, and an Espresso Book Machine. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Part 3 soon.

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