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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

e-Books and the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 7, 2011

The emergence of e-books in a popular format is changing the way we look at books and information in our society.


The impact of e-books on America’s public libraries has yet to be determined, but is certainly the topic of discussion within the library community.


The roots of today’s e-books date back to 1971 and the development of “Project Gutenberg,” an effort to make available to a limited audience various technical publications.


Over the years, various formats were tested and tried, and many failed in the marketplace of information.


By 2003, public libraries were beginning to offer e-books to their users, although the e-Reader equipment remained difficult to use.


By 2009, a variety of developments saw Kindle and Nook and iPhones on the market to read e-books, and the explosion of e-book information took off across America.


Every month brought a new product to the information marketplace, and the ability to acquire and download e-books soared as more publishers became involved.


 Our library system began offering the download of e-books as a joint effort of libraries in our automation system, as well as a state-wide network of public libraries.


The problem is that different companies have different requirements for their equipment and their products, and the download is difficult to say the least.


Add the fact that Amazon’s Kindle cannot handle library downloads (at least until Oct. of this year), and it is indeed a confusing marketplace for the information consumer.


Public Libraries must purchase e-books, they are not given to us free; and although e-books are generally less expensive than printed books, it is still a major cost to develop a sizable collection.


Earlier this year, the publisher HarperCollins announced that its e-books would contain a limitation factor, that after the 26th time their e-books were used by a library, it would automatically delete.


The library profession revolted against the publisher, asking if we would now be required to discard a paper book after the 26th person had read it.


The publisher stated that they were protecting their product, because libraries acquire e-books in a shared network, and one copy could be used nationwide in an e-book format.


The whole e-book picture remains confused, but my guess is that the format issues will slowly become resolved over time, and the e-book will become a great product for the dissimination of information to the public.


There are many books that are not in e-book format, and a growing number of e-books that don’t have a print version.  There are people who love their e-books and e-Readers, and others that wouldn’t touch them if they received one free.


And if you can find a roomful of librarians, and toss out the subject of e-books, you will likely get the deer-in-the-headlights look at first; followed by excitement about this new tool that libraries can use in the information marketplace.


I also remember the prediction from 1901 that libraries would disappear with the addition of indexes to most nonfiction books, or that the Great Depression would end reading by the general public, or how television in the 1950s would put libraries out-of-business, or how computers of the 1990s would end the use of libraries by the public.


It is what keeps working in a library to be fun and exciting!