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It seems to have become conventional wisdom that libraries banish bulky print in favor of ethereal electronic editions whenever possible to both save space and encourage use. The space-saving aspect of e-books and electronic materials can not be seriously questioned. But how appropriate are they for libraries?
D’Agostino hits on some points that I ran in to while working in publishing that make e-books rather unattractive. HTML and PDF e-books were the de facto formats of the pre-Kindle era. However, many publishers, unwilling to navigate the choppy waters of competing e-reader devices, are clinging to these formats even though they are not favored by the few e-book users who actually exist.
Even those favored formats (Kindle, Sony, etc.) have their problems. Princeton’s experiment using (free) Kindles for instruction produced lack-luster and disappointing results. Besides, who wants to take detailed notes though a complicated process that can be erased without notice by some office worker half a continent away?
Cushing Academy has charged ahead into a brave new library world without cumbersome paper books, but who will inhabit it? What is a library without books?
While the administrators and Cushing certainly believed that an all-digital approach was best for their patrons and usage patterns, public libraries are a long way away from that world. All levels of technological literacy and economic status must be served in a public library and the humble book is still the way to do that.
Contrary to some claims, e-readers are not environmentally friendly alternatives to paper books, either. One must consider the energy and material required to create an e-reader, the power to sustain it, and the vast amounts of e-waste generated when it and its cohorts have outlived their perceived usefulness.
The classic paperback, when returned loved-beyond-repair to the library, can simply be recycled.
Will e-books hold a place in my library? At this point, I have to say probably not. I will certainly look to replace out-dated, bulky, and expensive print references materials with their on-line counterparts. You can now purchase the entire run of National Geographic, a publication my library currently stores back-issues of in a closet, for less than $60 in an easy-to-use electronic edition – something else that I will surely add to the library.
As e-readers form a market and the battle-haze settles a bit, demand will likely rise for e-book availability, at which point we can consider adding them. For now though, books – those dusty lovable icons – will continue to form almost the entirety of my library’s collection.
As GSLIS faculty seem sadistically eager to point out, being a library director is a BIG responsibility with A LOT of things happening at once … it may even be overwhelming! Gee, thanks. I hadn’t thought about that.
Actually, I had already visited the bowels of the stacks looking for a few books on library management and small libraries that haven’t come across before in class. Oh, they needed to be recent too. I have no need to even skim chapters about wether or not this Internet thing is ever going to take off.
Three of the titles I picked up are by GSLIS alum Judith Siess: The Visible Librarian, The Essential OPL, and The OPL Source Book. OPL stands for One Person Library, which Judith is an expert on. However, her books deal mainly with corporate libraries. Besides, I have five paid staff members. I’m not exactly a One Person Library. I also picked up The Thriving Library by Marylain Block, The Small Public Library Survival Guide by Herbert Landau, and Small Libraries by Sally Reed (though it dates from the early 1990s).
Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?