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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.