Yesterday, controversy broke out on Twitter over the topic of today’s #followreader chat – How Can Libraries Increase E-Book Adoption? – and it looks like sparks may fly from 4-5pm ET.
Some people challeged the implication that libraries should encourage e-book adoption, arguing that the licensing terms on which distributors and publishers offer e-books to libraries are not fair. (For more background on the tensions between publishers and libraries regarding e-books, check out this post by Eric Hellman about Macmillian CEO John Sargent’s view of the issues.)
Others, like Tim Spalding at LibraryThing, went much further, arguing on his blog that e-books could bring about the demise of public libraries entirely. (Those in publishing will recognize Tim’s argument as a variation on publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin’s gloomy prognostication that e-books will bring down independent bookstores are we know them.)
Here’s the nut of Tim’s post:
Libraries–from the library of Alexandria to the “social libraries” that preceded public libraries–came about because of the value of aggregation. And contemporary libraries are in large part valuable for the same reasons. They are:
1. Bringing physical items together makes access easier than having books spread all around.
2. A library can allow many people to use an item many times for the same price a person would pay for a single use.
Ebooks undermine 1 in their digial form. There’s no getting around this. It may be good for the world, but it isn’t good for physical libraries.
Ebooks undermine 2 in their terms. Few will say it openly, but publishers have never liked selling books to libraries, at least when it canibalized sales to consumers. They don’t like that almost a half of all book reading is provided by libraries although libraries account for only 4% of their sales. For similar reasons, publishers dislike personal lending, donations and the used book market.
But what about the idea that to stay relevant in the 21st century, libraries have to make it part of their mission to increase technological literacy, as librarian and tech activist Bobbi Newman, believes? (Watch her cool slideshow on libraries and transliteracy here).
And wouldn’t it be constructive to try to define new e-book licensing models for libraries that also make sense for publishers?
We’ll be getting into all sides of this debate today at 4pm ET. Here are the details on how to participate in the chat, and more about Bobbi Newman (@librarianbyday), who will join me (@charabbott) in leading today’s discussion.
See you there!