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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.

Access to eBooks

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 30, 2012

During an average month at our library system, the public checks out 60,000 items.


Three-fourths of those items are paperbound materials including books, magazines, and an assortment of other things produced on paper.


The other one-fourth is DVDs, and various forms of CD products from music to books-on-CD, and a smattering of videocassettes that remain part of the collections.


The growing, new format in our collection is eBooks, an invisible electronic resource available to library users to download to their “reader,” which can take a variety of makes and models of e-readers.


Any time there is a new format of information in the library, the demand outstrips the available resources.  I can remember the small selection of videocassettes that appeared on library shelves in 1984 when they first became available.


It took some time before we could provide sufficient quantities of videos to begin to satisfy the public demand.


The same has been true for eBooks, although libraries have joined together to pool our resources and allow the collection of eBooks to grow and expand to meet the need.


Libraries are working with a couple of “roadblocks” when it comes to eBooks.


First, three of the largest publishers in the world, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin are denying access to their eBook products by our nation’s libraries.


While hundreds of other publishers have embraced the sale of eBooks to libraries, these three publishers will not sell their e-Book product to libraries under any circumstances.


Two of them are testing pilot products for the library market, but the purpose of such testing baffles my mind.  Would you test a printed book to see if someone can read it?


In addition, Random House and HarperCollins continue to restrict their eBooks to 26 loans before the book must be deleted.  Would you throw away a paper book once 26 people have read it?


Further complicating eBooks is the fact that some prices are inflated well beyond realistic bounds.


In our own library, we have noticed that some eBook titles are only available in electronic format and people wishing to read “a plain old paper book” is out-of-luck until a publisher decided to publish such a format.


Some publishers change the title information so we have to hunt to locate the paper book that is the same as the eBook.


It is a frustrating issue to libraries, but the American Library Association continues to meet with publishers to find a solution that is acceptable to all, and will benefit the nation’s readers.


I am concerned about the potential loss of information to our society.  With increasing amount of data being stored in electronic format, what will happen when the last byte of something is forever deleted?


Look at the process for producing a text today.  With everything produced on a computer, the process of writing that has existed before is lost forever when the final version is produced.


The library community needs meaningful change and creative solutions that will serve the readers of our nation who expect the same access to eBooks as they have to printed books.