Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Money for Suck.

Here is an interesting proposal from Alex Beam of The Boston Globe: libraries should buy e-book readers for their patrons to show them how they suck.

He didn't actually say any of that, but he said to buy readers to show everyone "the possibilities and limitations of digital books."

Here is the full paragraph for context:
I worry that libraries, even the newest ones, risk becoming fortresses buttressed by books, protecting Gutenberg’s technology for reasons of principle rather than pragmatism. Librarians need to educate themselves, and us, about the possibilities and limitations of digital books. Right now, the Jeff Bezoses of the world - he is the rosy-eyed, huckster boss of Amazon - have the stage to themselves, and, as I write, consumerist lemmings are dropping $200 to $250 for e-readers, mainly because they are well promoted.
I understand his point. Like many libraries, we offer Overdrive ebooks to our patrons. But we don't have readers for them to borrow to experience what an ebook is and whether they might want to buy themselves a reader.

This is one area where libraries are ahead of the curve to the disadvantage of our patrons. We offer a service whereby they need to spend a lot of their own money to enjoy. In the past, from what I remember, libraries added DVDs to the collection after most people already had the players in their homes. And if someone still doesn't have one, he can get one from Kmart for around $20. And basic mp3 players for downloadable audiobooks are now around the same affordable price.

This is a similar situation with the computers we provide: these are big ticket items that many people can't afford. So the library buys computers and software to try to narrow the gap between the digital haves and the have-nots.

But with a new service like ebooks, once the library adds them to the collection through a company like Overdrive, it's like the library is choosing to actively ignore the set of our patrons who can't afford the readers. I can't think of another service we offer where the patron needs an expensive gadget to join the party.

So libraries should add this cost to the total budget for ebook subscriptions. If you have $20,000 for ebooks, pull off $3,000 for readers, and circulate those, too.

And maybe our patrons won't care about ebooks once they get a taste of them. Maybe they'll go back to their old reliable dead trees.

Or maybe libraries, as we currently know them, will cease to exist, replaced by download stations and a few USB cables, or a wi-fi hub and some vending machines.

No, I don't don't think an ebook reader could replace me. Unless there's a model that breaks down all the time and whose battery overheats and catches fire, then, yeah, my job is over.