Reading Between the Lines: The Pros and Cons of eBooks
January 31, 2012
You can purchase a Barnes and Noble Nook for as little as $99 and an Amazon Kindle for just $79. Most tablets give you access to apps that allow you to download and read books on them directly, letting you bypass a dedicated eReader altogether. Add to this scenario the efforts libraries have made to negotiate with publishers in the interest of lending eBooks to you free of charge, and you've got an interesting dynamic. Many have embraced eBooks whole-heartedly. Why lug around a single paperback in your purse when you could carry a slender eReader or tablet loaded with multiple books instead?
Kindle users rejoiced when Overdrive, the service through which MCPL lends eBooks, worked out an agreement with Amazon, allowing users to download from the library. The demand for electronic materials has continued to grow, but so has confusion over the nuances of the format. I often find myself explaining to patrons why they must wait to download popular titles. It never fails -- I wind up using the concept of "copies of a book" to describe how licenses work and why waiting lists continue to exist in the digital world. The analogy results in nods of understanding. As much as eBooks are taking off, their intangibility forces us to consider them in terms of traditional print materials.
Publishers, however, have been hesitant to treat eBooks like books when it comes to entering into lending agreements with libraries. Many fear that paying customers will turn to the library instead. The issue of ownership often takes on new meaning in the digital world. The licensing agreements demanded by many publishers are worded in such a way that librarians must first decipher and then determine whether an agreement is really favorable to uninterrupted access to content. An example of unfair licensing was seen last year when. Driven by profit, HarperCollins tried to force libraries to renew their licenses more often, only to find its eBooks boycotted by many large systems.
The undeniable popularity of the eBook format raises many even more pressing questions. Will there be a need for the bricks-and-mortar library in the future? Will print materials become antiquated? Will access to information be a luxury enjoyed by those who can afford access to electronic resources? Will our desire to insure that this never becomes our reality be enough to preserve the library as place? Can we rest easy knowing that our emphasis on community programming has already accomplished this goal?
The board of the Rockford Illinois Public Library recently approved a budget that called for the allocation of 25.5% of acquisition funds for the purchase of eBooks. Several groups, including the NAACP, have openly criticized the decision. A 2010 poll found that 22% of residents were living at or below the poverty line in Rockford, a fact that the grass roots effort calling itself, "Save Our Libraries," has used to argue its case. The financial inability to purchase an eReader might keep nearly a quarter of the community from experiencing the same level of access enjoyed by more privileged residents.
The situation in Rockford seems to suggest that we aren't ready to abandon traditional books just yet. Will we ever be ready?
As I slip a paperclip onto the corner of a page to mark my progress through The Scorch Trials, I think to myself, "Well, I'll never be ready."
Maybe, it's the fact that I spent the weekend going through my mother's old books, her mother's old books, and a few of her mother's old books too. The spines on some of the older volumes were barely intact. More often than not, the book in question needed a bit of dusting, but it was there. A strong magnetic pulse couldn't wipe away its content. There's something about passing a book on too. The best books hint at the circumstances of the when and where in which they were written, but all books also have another history, a physical history. Who's touched this book? Where was it kept? How many moves has it survived? How many generations have eagerly turned its pages? Was it donated? Is there life still in it to be paid forward, maybe a few more times?
I have access to the Internet. I don't want to read on a device that lets me check my email. I retreat into a good book to escape information overload, to discover simplicity again. I own a Nook, and it gets a fair amount of use in doctor's offices, on planes, long car rides and such. But for the most part, it gets passed up when there's a physical book available and I'm in need of some "Me" time.
What about you? Do you prefer eBooks to print books? Do you relish the feel of actually turning the pages of a physical copy? How much should we invest in eBooks? What if we allocated a quarter of our acquisitions budget for the purchase of eBooks? Would it be fair to the community?
North Independence Branch