eReaders. . . The Saga Continues

January 20, 2011 at 8:07 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )


eReaders. . .They are a love that has mutated into the plague of my life lately.  I know I’m not the only one who has noticed the ever-growing presence. At ALA Midwinter this year, they were more than a major topic of heated discussion.  After several days of talking to librarians about eReaders and where technology is taking the good, old paper-based book, I came back to a desk full of patrons’ emails regarding them with urgent messages for an immediate reply.  All of this has now given me a lot to think and say about them, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. Although, there are many people and articles touting the benefits and downfalls of eReaders, I, per say, have to take the public librarian-side, because frankly, that is where I thrive.

So here is how I feel: eReaders are great in the right syntax. I like many of them for the fact that they offer the masses countless amounts of books, newspapers, periodicals, graphic novels, etc.   From my personal public library perspective, they offer patrons the opportunity to have at least 8 books at a time for absolutely no price whatsoever.  When it comes down to comparing Overdrive’s services to the many various types devices with eReading capability versus the world domination of Amazon’s Kindle, I always have the luxury of telling my patrons that they have the opportunity to use Overdrive and have 8 free books for a limited time.  There are also no fines.  Your just denied access once the borrowing time is over.  Sorry Kindle users, but that device does not play nice with what our public library has to offer.  It’s not our choice, it’s Amazon’s.  The problem lies in the fact that public libraries are left with stretching out their budgets to cover the cost of another high-demand format and well as deal with all the hoopla that encompasses simply trying to download an eBook to a portable device.

I do a lot of purchasing of eBooks.  I tend to buy the same in  electronic formats that often mirror what we offer our patrons on our physical shelves.  That said, why do libraries allow publishers and developers of eReaders to allocate the price for materials and files, especially when its often the same title in a newer, savvier format?  Don’t we as a whole have enough power to push  publishers into offering us what we want, as opposed to letting publishers tell us what we need to buy over and over again?  As for eReaders, why are there so many various hoops that patrons have to jump through just to obtain a book?  Couldn’t there be some form of standardization that would make easier on the end-user?  I want standard format all eReaders can utilize and make the entire experience instantaneous and enjoyable.  ePubs files are close, but they don’t work on every device. 695397

At the ALA Midwinter in San Diego, I hear a lot about this issue and the thoughts and logic were substantial:  for instance, as Brewster Kahle stated, if all libraries in American but $1000 aside for the next 3 years we could digitalize everything.  Of course, that leads to the question, “What is everything?”  To me, everything is a lot of stuff and very vague, but it does open a possibility that libraries have the power to make their own digital content.

So, my second core issue would be: Where is the public library left?  We want to be ahead of the ballgame, but frankly, our bugdets do not always leave us with enough room to be ahead of the electronic trend.  For that matter, it is almost impossible to keep up with the pace of electronic trends, but in order to remain valuable to our communities it is a job the public library must strive to do.  That leaves me me to my next problem, as Brewster Kahle also stated at ALAMW11, it’s time for libraries to unite and tell the publishers what we want as opposed to letting the publishing houses telling us what we should be purchasing.  It’s a ridiculous circle.  Here we are subscribing to journals and and buying books that have decided to go from paper to electronic format:  therfore, selling themselves to us at one price to only re-sell themsleves at another.  Mind you, that price continues to only escolate; therefore, eating away at budgets that can not afford to keep sustaining the costs for pricey journals and re-purchased book titles.

So where does that lead eReaders and technologies, such as tablets, left?  Frankly, I love both.  I am equaly frustrated with the technology that encompasses the practicality of using any one of these devices.  I want a device that allows me to read books, periodicals, etc, without jumping through hoops.  As a public librarain, and using Overdrive-a service that is the best suited for public libraries’ needs, the company itself seems to be equally frustrated with the amount of steps involved in order to get an ebook.  They too wish it could be a simpler process.  The truth of the matter is between the publishers and designers of eReaders, everyone wants to make their mark, only to clog up the channels and frustrate their target market.

So where does this endless verbal verbatim end?  It doesn’t, frankly.  I want the world of ereaders, and like devices, to open up.  Okay, Apple apps were cute in the beginning, but that has worn off.  If I want a book:  let me download it, read it at my leisure, and then return it–just like borrowing a real book from the library.  Why is there so much territorialism?  I get it; it’s all about the making money.  However, I feel that if public libraries could unite their strength and make a stance against the publishing houses and even electronic developers we could make a difference. We could finally tell them what we want, as opposed to them selling us what we think we should buy, only to be extremely territorial with their products and Digital Rights Management.   There are plenty of public libraries out there with enough power to delegate where we think we should be, whether or not it concerns a databases or a latest book  title.

The fact of the matter is, public libraries have the power to tell the publishing houses and developers what we want.  Why should we allow them to digitize materials we already own them, merely to have then sell them back to us?  It sounds implausible, but that is what we are essentially doing.   As a public librarian, and making connections with others, we have the opportunity to unite and make a difference.  Let’s set the price for eBooks and the access to them.  Forget waiting for the publishers and developers to tell us what we want, when we already know it.  Stop sitting around waiting, and instead, take them by their inky horns and shout what we need. Together, we have enough power to delegate prices, materials, and hopefully easy access.

–Melissa the Librarian

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2 Comments

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