Between ALA Annual in New Orleans and TEDxLibrariansTO in Toronto, I feel I am missing out on two important librarian gatherings going on right now. In my perspective, the importance is in their timing in the scheme of things.
[Originally, this was one post talking about both ALA and TEDx. Upon review, I broke it out to two separate posts. You can read the other part here. -A]
For Annual, I think another eBook milepost has been reached. With the announcement of Baker & Taylor and Barnes & Noble joining forces, the offical emergence of 3M onto the eBook scene, and the announcement of a Freegal-like eBook lending service, there is a corner being turned here. Thus begins an era of different lending models and pricing schemes where librarians will be choosing which models they want and which they do not. This point cannot be stressed enough; this will be a time when librarians can pick which lending models they are comfortable with them.
My concern is that this power will be cast aside in favor of the blind “costs be damned” mantra of providing content to patrons because they demand it. Also, there is still a lack of ownership or collection control being offered from the major players. (If I recall correctly from Computers in Libraries 2011, there are companies that offer eBook ownership, but damned if I can remember which. I just know it’s not any of the major fiction groups.) There continues to be a movement towards licensing or leasing without an ownership alternative.
The idea that really concerns me is the movement towards a “buy it now” option offered next to the lending option. Would libraries see any of this money? Would we be purchasing the license for an eBook just to lose out when the patron opts to buy it when they see the length of the wait? Will libraries become another advertising platform for eBook vendors to reach customers? The idea of libraries purchasing eBook licenses on platforms that simultaneously encourage people not to use the library for borrowing but to purchase instead seems like a big loss for libraries.
While some may argue that libraries will be able to provide a means for patrons to purchase titles they like (something they can’t do with print), I would say that the current eBook lending and licensing model stacks the deck towards making a sale more so than with print books. The instant gratification of eBooks delivery lowers the bar compared to print books along with a (generally) lower price point. It provides the ingredients to easily create frustration while providing a quick and relatively cheap remedy. (“You don’t want to go through the hassle of borrowing when you can go through the ease of buying, do you?”)
My question for this kind of move is this: where does it leave libraries in their role in society? What kind of future does it offer? I’m not in complete opposition to it, but I don’t see how it furthers the core mission.