Recent blogs about the Kindle and library eBooks have sparked interesting comments from library users and non-users, showing new perceptions of libraries and eBooks. Check out “Will Kindle ever add support for library books?” at Stephen’s Lighthouse and the Kindle Blog for more details. Libraries are constantly battling the perception of library obsolescence, and the comments in these blogs are no exception.
There seems to be some new elements to the library obsolescence myth, which generally refers to the misconception that libraries can be replaced by the Internet. A new perception of users and non-users is that library eBook selections are paltry. This impression is actually true for many libraries, because libraries have had many years to build their print and AV collections, and have only recently started building eBook collections in the last few years. It is going to take time for libraries to build up their eBook collections to equal their print collection levels, keeping in mind that libraries continue to serve print and AV users, and library collection budgets are spread across electronic, print, audiobook, DVD and music formats.
However, eBook users are part of the “immediate gratification” generation, and their expectation is that libraries should have complete online collections equal to their print collections, NOW. These users will not be patient while libraries take years to build their electronic collections at a “supplemental collection” rate. If libraries are going to grab a share of the eBook user audience and find a secure place in the eBook industry, they need to focus on building their eBook collections immediately, to move from paltry to essential as soon as possible.
One factor in our favor for building library eBook collections, is that libraries will not have to weed their eBook collections to make space on the shelves for newer books. The constant shelf space limitation of print and AV collections made weeding a necessary evil in libraries, and that has reduced the potential greatness of modern public library print collections. Without the weeding requirement due to space, it will be easier to build better eBook collections in the long run. We will not have to weed rarely used classics to make room for numerous copies of the latest, hot titles.
Nonetheless, patrons are getting their first impressions of library eBook collections now. How many of them are turning away to purchase their eBooks, never to return because of the small size of our current eBook collections? It is a critical time for libraries to show a commitment to meeting the needs of eBook users. Libraries need to build their eBook collections quickly in order to establish a secure place in the rapidly growing eBook industry, before it is too late.
Regarding the Amazon Kindle and library eBooks, the library community must let Amazon know that they should reconsider library eBook compatibility with the Kindle. Library users are passionate readers who read books borrowed from libraries, but they also buy books because there will always be titles that they just can’t wait for. Many print bookstores have experienced this and have built friendly relationships with the library community as they’ve come to realize that libraries are good for the business of selling books overall. As libraries catch up in the eBook game, it would be in Amazon’s best interest to give libraries and library users a shot at using the Kindle too. They would be pleasantly surprised at how it affects their bottom line.