Thursday, January 19, 2012

Digital vs. Real Books- Can't We All Just Get Along?

I read an article today about a library system in Illinois that is considering moving to a 95/5 ratio of digital-to-print materials. This isn't something that will happen overnight, but if funding decisions are made with that goal in mind, patrons will be affected.

I firmly believe that any library that wants to stay relevant must participate in providing digital materials to its patrons. Unfortunately, digital lending is complicated. Publishers are limiting content available for digital lending (they haven't quite figured out how to turn a profit on e-books) and libraries are not institutions able to make quick changes in policy or spending habits.

There are two models of e-lending now. In most public library systems, patrons use their own device and download materials to it from the library. These downloads will expire within the lending period. In public schools (K-12, I don't have a context for what universities are doing) the schools are lending devices with the e-books preloaded on them. (Please see Ms. Orest's blog post about our iPads here at Horizon for more details.)

As I've mentioned before, I still don't own an e-reader device or tablet. At this point I'm waiting to see if Apple chooses to make a smaller iPad with a lower price point before I make a purchase. And even once I own a device, I imagine that I'll primarily use it for travel. I still enjoy holding a book in my hand.

The problem I'm having of late isn't with the rise of e-books and the devices they're read on, it's with advertising them as a replacement for hard copy. I refuse to believe that the world would be a better place with only digital materials. But that doesn't mean a library shouldn't carefully consider how it will grow a useful digital collection.

This year in the Media Center we've been primarily focused on the Fiction Collection. We'll begin work on updating our Non-Fiction collection soon and you can bet we'll consider digital materials in our plans. Because the world of science and research is ever evolving and changing, having digital materials in certain subject areas makes sense.

As our economy continues to struggle, our funding will be limited. Consumers are limited as well, which effects the sale of all devices. If the goal of a library is to provide access to information to its patrons, then it's also our responsibility to maintain a meaningful collection in all formats.

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