Barbara Fister writes in "The Myth of the Bookless Library",
"No matter how innovative the bookless library sounds, this isn't a situation we planned. If the academic library of the future is bookless, it won’t be because of vision. It will be because of the lack of it."
I think I understand the perspective of my library colleagues. Digital books have many costs, both obvious (price) and less-obvious (from privacy to preservation/access to availability). Every library would love to offer books in every format, but the reality of scarce resources and non-library friendly publisher / e-book seller business models makes this very difficult.
My concern is that we are all participating, albeit with only the best motives, in creating a new content digital divide.
I am rich enough to buy my books from Amazon rather than check them out of the library.
Because I am rich enough to buy my books from Amazon I get:
- The book in the format I want it (e-book, audio or paper).
- The exact book I want as soon as it is published.
- Instant access to the book (via downloading).
- The ability to read my book on multiple platforms, from my e-book reader to my phone.
Most of my reading life I did not have the money to buy my books, and I took many many books out of the library. And for most of my life, the "book getting" and the "book reading" process was pretty much equal when borrowing or buying. A paper book from interlibrary loan comes as quickly as a paper book from Amazon.
But now, for me, the e-book and the audiobook are superior. The e-book for the multiple platform and instant buying ability, the audiobook for a million other reasons (mostly having to do with time and the ability to multitask while reading).
For most of my life, my library has been the great equalizer. Libraries made a scarce good (access to books) abundant. My librarian never cared about my bank account. Today, money matters for reading more than ever.
Yes, Amazon has the "Borrow Kindle Books from Your Local Library Program". (Can academic libraries participate in this program?) I have borrowed 2 books from my NH library system (Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich and Headhunters by Jo Nesbo. The system worked great, but these were the best books I could find to borrow. Everything I wanted to read (and my Wish List has over 500 books) was either unavailable or had a long wait.
What is the answer? The only thing I can think of is that we need to give libraries more money. We should not accept the emergence of this new digital content divide. The digital economy requires that we increase our investment in our libraries.