While I know that eBooks are an important part of the evolution of public libraries I can't help feeling that there are almost as many "downsides" as there are upsides with eBooks as they are currently available to libraries. Don't get me wrong - we have to provide customers access to them, but I think that we should also be aware of some of the risks.
While I'm not sure I like the analogy used by the Librarian in Black where she equates eBooks to a less than desirable lover, she makes some really good points in her article "I'm breaking up with eBooks (and you can too)". This blog is referenced on the front page of my blog as the author often has some interesting things to say.
The two aspects of the way that suppliers are offering eBooks that I really struggle with are:
- That the publishing industry sees libraries as the enemy of their commercial aspirations, rather than potential allies in growing the reading habit, and
- The rules about access fundamentally skew some of the foundation principles of free public libraries - thereby weakening our "brand".
Also, with many eBook suppliers (not all) the library only "rents" their collection for as long as they pay an annual subscription. As soon as they stop paying the subscription they lose access to all eBooks they have "purchased" - i.e. rented! I am all for commerical providers making a profit, but some of these practices are designed with such self interest that we need to recognise the practices for what they are.
I could say lots about the fact that in South Australia 70% of people over the age of 60 do not have a computer in their home (as reported by the Office for the Aging), let alone eReaders. And what is the prevalence of eReaders amongst our poorest most vulnerable? So who are we aiming this collection at?
I wont go on - but I do want us as a profession to be critically aware of the business models being forced upon us and what these may mean for the foundation principles of our profession. We have always been happy to adopt new business models if the customer benefits, but we need to do so with some caution and hopefully with the ability to choose business models that reinforce our professional principles rather than eroding them.