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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.

eBooks in the Library System today

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 17, 2016

In 2015, the users of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County downloaded over 38,000 eBooks from our collection of online books for public use.


That number grows by 10 percent every year as people discover this new format of books, and learn that their public library system has a shared collection of over 300,000 titles to select for downloading into your personal device.


According to the American Library Association, one-fourth of all publishing in the United States today is dedicated to eBooks.


Eight years ago, only 1 percent of publishing was done in the eBook format.


The concept of eBooks was born in the 1960s in academic institutions, with Andrics van Dam given credit for the term “eBooks” while he was associated with Brown University.


Michael S. Hart at the University of Illinois in 1971 is given credit for actual applications related to the eBook while working on their Xerox mainframe computer system.


Project Gutenberg began digitizing classic works of literature in the 1980s with a goal of one million books online.


Early eBooks were being used in the U.S. Defense Department prior to be introduced to the public.


The first eBooks readers were difficult to use and hard-on-the-eyes if used for extended period of time.  Public Libraries began to offer them as part of the collection in 1998, despite limited usage due to the limitations.


The sudden and rapid growth in demand for eBooks came in 2007 with improvements to the readers being offered, particularly Amazon’s Kindle.


Even with the rapid growth in demand, the traditional paperbound book remains the popular choice for the public in 2015.


Our Library joined with the Ohio Digital Library in the development of an eBook collection that can be downloaded by the public.


Libraries have been working with publishers to expand the options and pricing for eBooks in a marketplace unsure of how to handle this new electronic format.


Publishers were pricing eBooks higher than their paperbound cousins, and in 2011 some publishers began placing a limitation of “26 downloads” on eBooks.


This was different from the paperbound books which can remain part of a library collection until replaced with a new copy.


At the same time, other titles in eBook format are less expensive and offered for public use.


Last June, a publisher lost its case in U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals regarding an antitrust case stating that publishers had colluded to raise eBook pricing.  The case has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.


So, what will libraries of the future look like with eBook technology?


After all, eBooks float around in the electronic cloud of data, allowing libraries to allocated more spaced to alternative use.


We are still a place of information, just with different tools.


eBooks have enormous advantages; from the senior citizen who can adjust the font to the appropriate size and carry their device around with them, to the student who can access current information that is updated.


Every holiday or birthday, the library receives people coming to find out “how to use these new things!”


Online databases are replacing the traditional Library Reference collections with information that is updated by the moment, rather than waiting for the next edition to be printed.


Remember those early computer screens that could only project text, as compared to today’s flat-screen monitors in full color showing graphics that look like the outdoors!


I think libraries will have both books and eBooks for the time being, and who knows what may come on the horizon down-the-road supplementing both.