Tuesday, December 7, 2010

When everything is downloadable...

About ten days ago we decided to start providing downloadable ebooks for Nooks and other compatible devices, using the same company that hosts our downloadable audio book collection. They should be showing up in our catalog soon--maybe even before the end of the year, which would be good timing if you are hoping for an ereader this holiday season. Just make sure your personal shopper knows that Kindles do not work with the ebooks soon to be available from the library.

Everytime these new formats come along, I start thinking about the what it means for libraries now and in the future. There's the budget part of the issue, of course. It costs money to make these available, but our book budget isn't really growing and people still want the actual book as well as the audio version of the book--all of which means that it's not unusual for us to buy the same book in print, large print, CD, downloadable audio, and perhaps now, downloadable text. We're balancing these competing demands as best we can, but it's a challenge.

Then there's the whole question of where libraries will fit in if the future is more mobile (much of what I read seems to say soon we'll all be using smart phones for virtually everything we now do on a PC), and also much less oriented toward traditional print.

Yesterday Google Editions went live, in direct competition with Amazon. Barnes and Nobel stores are having a hard time, as are many independent book stores. I don't think that most people want to pay for every book they might want to read, even if the digital versions cost less than traditional print--I know I couldn't afford that. But libraries are a relatively small part of the book market, and the companies developing these new tools aren't so interested in us. Publishers are trying to figure out how to stay profitable in a digital world, and letting libraries check out a single digital copy of a book to multiple users looks like lost revenue to them.

Librarians are in this profession because we believe in the value of what we do. I read something the other day that resonated with me. "The 21st century is no place for timid librarians." We've found our way through many changes over the years, and I hope we'll figure this new digital future as well.

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