bibliotechy

A brave new world for readers! But where does the library fit in?

In STT on April 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm

The following Wall Street Journal is a must read about how ebooks and ebook readers (e.g. Kindle) are changing how we read.  I found this article via the new free iPhone app for the Wall Street Journal (get it here).

How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write:  Author Steven Johnson outlines a future with more books, more distractions — and the end of reading alone.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123980920727621353.html
[4/20/09 – WSJ.com]

This is a very well thought out summary of how ebooks work now and how digital content (e.g. ebooks, newspapers, blogs) might work in the very near future.  It’s  great news for readers and the curious mind.   But it’s expensive too, as this assumes you’ll buy everything you read digitally whether it be a novel or a micropayment for a newspaper article or blog post or book chapter.  Turns out these this will also be great for Visa & Mastercard …  But where dose the public library fit into this brave new ebook world?  I’m not sure, but here’s two scenarios …

Glass Half-Empty hypothetical outlook 😦
Publishers will work very hard to control the distribution and re-distribution of digital content effectively negating the First Sale Doctrine.  Meaning libraries will have to pay publishers a license fee to loan material, both digital and possibly physical books (why not if they can get away with it?).  This license fee would be in addition too, or included in, the purchase price of the content, and probably an annual fee will be involved.  Talk about your budget increases!  This would also be the effective end to that favorite library fund-raiser, the used book sale.  Not only because of the lack of physical books, but because the license for digital books won’t allow for this.  The not-too-distant-future librarian had better be adept at understanding licensing, and EULAs …  what they don’t teach you in library school … this glass half-full scenario is pretty empty.

Glass Half-Full hypothetical outlook 🙂
Publishers see libraries as way to promote reading, stoke interest and inquiry, and as another entree to customers purchasing their (digital) content.  Encouraging reading is good for the publishing industry (and a sound Democracy, etc., etc.).  Essentially libraries continue to play the role they currently do vis-a-vis publishers.  This new digital era also ushers in a world of new digital publishers who are in the business to promote authors and ideas, not just their bottom line(!).  And to top things off, the First Sale Doctrine is upheld in the courts and thru legislation for digital content (e.g. ebooks, music, etc.).  And digital used ebook sales continue to be a mainstay of fundraising for libraries across the land!  That’s a pretty full glass and I want to live in that future!

So, what’ll happen?
Probably what always happens, little bit of both scenarios.   So maybe it won’t be so bad and maybe it won’t be so perfect, otherwise there would be nothing to blog about right?  Having just finished my first ebook on the Kindle for iPhone (get it here), I’m very excited by all the possibilities described in the WSJ article above.  I’ve totally bought into the handheld-digital-ebook-hyperlink-instant-access world.  And yet, I do wonder and worry about what this all means for the future of my chosen profession, but I don’t want to go back and I’m more excited than pessimistic.
  1. Missive on print vs. electronic newspaper.
    Why newsprint still beats the Kindle.
    By Farhad Manjoo / Slate.com
    http://www.slate.com/id/2220793

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