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.

Deb Czarnik is Library Manager for Technical Services and Collection Development for Lee County Library System in Florida.

9 Responses to “eBooks and immediate gratification”

  1. Sally Bissell

    Deb,
    You make several excellent points in this blog post and I’m so pleased that you mention the fact that monies invested in ebooks will never be wasted as we’ll never have to weed them. What a concept.
    I hope and believe that Kindle will come around and it will be great for all of us!

  2. Kevin Moore

    The urgency to develop eBook collections worries me. Partly from a “haste makes waste” concern that always arises when new technology demands we change our habits, culture and work; but also because these things ain’t cheap. I am lucky to live in a part of the country where library funding is pretty stable; yet there are systems within my state that have seen drastic cuts, including one that made national news by shutting down completely until a private management firm took over. States are starting to make even deeper cuts (cf. California) to library budgets. So the question is not “can we afford this transition” – because it’s inevitable – but more what sacrifices are we making to accommodate this change.

    Not to be a Debbie Downer or anything. Great post!

  3. Matt Amory

    It has been posted elsewhere, but it should be noted here that Overdrive’s own interface is often a contributor to patron perceptions that there is a limited collection of e-books available.
    I am a huge fan of libraries providing access to free e-books, but Overdrive’s overdressed button leading to a wider content set on our website looks like a spam vector and it’s below the fold.

    • Dan Stasiewski

      Hi Matt, can you let us know what library website you’re using? We can take a look at the interface.

  4. Ross

    Very interesting. I’ve heard that Kindles are locked into content from Amazon. Let’s say I wanted to buy some Kindles to lend to my patrons. Since each Kindle has its own account number, I would then have to buy a copy of the same ebook for each Kindle I have, wouldn’t I?

    We’re introducing ePub format ebooks this year. The vendor we’re going with allows you to have unlimited use of each title on their database, as long as you pay the fees. We might also buy some ereaders as well, but I doubt we’ll be buying Kindles. They sound too inflexible.

  5. Deb Czarnik

    @Ross
    Yes Ross, that is my understanding — you would have to purchase titles of the books for each Kindle. However, we don’t lend Kindles or any other ereaders at my library, so I’m not completely sure about that.

    The last point of the post however, was asking Amazon to open the closed system of the Kindle to allow patrons with Kindles to play e-books with DRM other than the proprietary Amazon DRM.