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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

eBooks and the Library Collection

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 18, 2011

At a recent meeting at the library, we were discussing the era of eBooks, their impact on library services, and how to meet the public demand for eBooks.


It frankly gives me a headache to try to predict the direction of eBooks, and all of the issues surrounding their collections, and downloads to the public’s various devices for using eBooks.


Currently, our library system has joined with 77 other Ohio public libraries to offer eBook content in a database accessible with your library card.


That is supplemented by an Ohio eBook database with more offerings, as well as other databases of eBook products of materials out-of-copyright.


With the rapid addition of the various eBook readers in the American marketplace, it is difficult to provide enough eBooks to satisfy the demand of the public.


All of the 77 libraries in our database are purchasing additional eBooks as quickly as finances allow, using computer generated demand information from the system.


This is complicated by the various download procedures of the variety of eBook devices on the market.  The library’s effort to educate users is literally a one-on-one process due to the variety of issues with each device.


The Kindle product is now allowing downloads from library database collections, effective this past September.


HarperCollins Publishers continues to restrict usage to 26 downloads, and Penguin Publishers removed their products from the library market for a short time.


Yes, libraries must purchase eBooks; publishers do not “give” them to libraries.


What the future holds for eBooks is anyone’s guess as the marketplace has not settled into any particular format.


At the same time, the demand for paper publishing products remains strong, but is changing from the standard publisher-editor-print that has been known for years.


Today, the print edition is linked to eBook release, and book-on-CD, and large print release.


Some books come from the private sector through print-on-demand, or are the result of a blog.  Other books are restricted distribution trying to avoid libraries as a market for their product.

The effort of various parts of the information marketplace to keep their product out of library collections is shown to be a mistake, using the Kindle as an example.


Amazon tried to restrict Kindle to only eBooks that they sold, and in the end, found that people want to be able to use libraries and their collections; and will not want to specifically purchase every eBook that they want to read.


Bookstores and libraries have co-existed for decades, and actually complement each other in the information marketplace.


There are books that I own and have in my personal collection at home, and others that I may want to read once or maybe just “page through” without reading the full text.


It is the same concept with eBooks, some I would like to have access to, while others I want to own in my eBook library.


So what would Ellen Summers Wilson, our first librarian, done with all of these changes in the information marketplace in 1902?  Actually, she dealt with similar-type issues a century ago.


Libraries were converting collections to the Dewey Decimal System, adding controversial light fiction to the scholarly collections, and starting book clubs for library users.


Miss Wilson gathered government publications for specific requests, installed a telephone for library questions, and made sure the streetcar stopped at the library.


She distributed business cards at the local plant gates to workers leaving their jobs, to be sure they knew of the library hours and phone number.


Therein lies the answer, public libraries have always had the flexibility to change as time passes and things change.