eBooks Won't Kill the Library Star
February 13, 2013
When I tell people that I work at a library, one frequent response I get is "Aren’t you worried that eBooks are going to kill libraries and put you out of a job?" The previous version of this question was "Aren’t you afraid the Internet is going to kill libraries and put you out of a job?" Well, the Internet has been around for 20 years and we’re still here. I don’t see eBooks being any different.
The fact that eBooks cost money is a major reason why they won't put libraries out of business. Publishers are in the business of making money, not giving away free books, so eBooks are DRM-protected. You probably don't buy every book you want to read. You get many of them from a library. Well, libraries buy eBooks for you to borrow, just as they do with print books. However, I would go further and say that far from being an existential threat to libraries, eBooks actually represent a major boon for libraries. Here are five reasons why eBooks are good for libraries:
- Access: eBooks can be accessed without actually having to take a trip to the Library. All you need is a valid library card and a way to access the Internet. The Library can now be wherever you are!
- Space: eBooks occupy no physical space. This is incredibly important, as libraries simply cannot keep every book they’ve ever had or will ever have. For eBooks, all that is required is online storage space, which is far cheaper than physical buildings.
- Portability: You can carry around up to 20 MCPL Overdrive eBooks on your reading device at any one time. You’d need a good-sized backpack to do that with print books.
- Durability: Print books will eventually succumb to the ravages of time and use and get weeded from a library's collection. Replacing these titles if desired costs money. Wouldn’t libraries be better off spending that money to purchase new titles? eBooks never degrade in quality. Problem solved, at least theoretically.*
- Relevance: Many young people who have only known the modern digital world may only want to engage with reading through electronic devices. eBooks provide a way for these people to do their reading on the devices that they consider to be essential to modern living, like smartphones, tablets, and computers.
Libraries have always adapted to new technologies. We’ve gone from hand-copied manuscripts on parchment to printed books on paper to non-physical digital books, but the role of libraries has remained the same: to provide access to and assistance with the world of information, whether for education or pleasure. I expect that when the direct neural download digital book becomes available, libraries will still be there, providing access to the latest titles by humans and AIs alike.
*No revolutionary technology makes a painless entry into society and the economy, and eBooks are no exception to this rule. I recommend this Forbes article, which looks at the issues raised by eBooks from both publishers' and libraries' perspectives.