Monday, January 23, 2012

E-Books and the Public Library

I was having my morning bowl of cereal when I heard an interesting interview on the local radio station.  Two representatives from the Greater Victoria Public Library were talking about their e-books program which enables patrons to check out e-books online.  Rather than going to your local branch and combing through the shelves, provided they have a library card, one can borrow an e-book instead.  The reason why these two women were being interviewed on morning talk radio is that two major publishers (who remained nameless) will no longer sell e-books to the public library.  Their rationale is that people will be disinclined to buy e-books or their traditional paper counterparts if the library is allowing them to download them for free.  Also, e-books don't suffer from the same rate of deterioration that hard copies do and publishers make their money when libraries have to replace popular titles.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal that at this point in time I'm not an e-books fan.  I don't own an e-reader and the very thought of staring at a screen for hours does not fill me with enthusiasm.  My sister and a coworker of mine have persuaded me that they are not all bad, providing book lovers with the enjoyment of reading their favourite titles without having to commit to the shelf space.  Though it is not my preferred medium, I recognize that this technology and its availability probably attract people to reading who would not otherwise pick up a book.  Ever since they introduced e-books to their catalogue, the library has seen an increase in traffic of 800%; a number which speaks for itself.  Another point worth noting is that e-books are checked out in the same way as their paper equivalents, only one patron can borrow each one at a time.  So, like popular library books, if it's taken out by someone else, you will have to wait your turn or buy it.  

I know that I will buy a book simply because I know that the book I want to read will be on the wait-list until I'm old and gray. E-books shouldn't be any different in that respect.  Libraries help out the publishing industry in ways that aren't as apparent to the superficial observer.  Certainly there are people who exclusively borrow from the library simply because the cost of books outweighs the joy of owning them.  Then there are other people who take books out of the library in order to give them a sort of test drive.  Without fully committing to buying that cookbook, or novel by an unknown author, one can give them a try and see what happens.  My mother is notorious for taking out knitting books from the library, reading them, and eventually buying a copy for herself at the local book store.  Once a person is exposed to an author that they enjoy, they are more likely to purchase their work.  

Though I don't think that you'll catch me with a Kindle anytime in the near future, I do applaud how e-books are converting more people into readers and regular library patrons.  I also think that libraries that adapt to our changing culture and offer new services, should be supported by the publishing industry as they are more interdependent than one would think.   

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