Misinformation re: eBooks & libraries

2) eBooks = disintegration of libraries…

…is the assumption that I’ve encountered when sharing with people that I studied Library Sciences and would like to work in a library. This can be a bit awkward for me, since the obvious implication is that we don’t need librarians. Why would you, when you can access eBooks from home? However, in thinking about it I’ve realized something:

Not really. In fact, the move to provide eCollections (as I like to call them) without librarians is really taking a step backwards to go forwards. How so?

Let’s say that an institution (library, college, school, etc.) decides to make that move to eBooks. We’ll go with the idea that it doesn’t need “librarians,” or “library technicians” to do the work. After all, other places (book stores, online eBook stores, etc.) provide eBooks without requiring all the fancy shmancy certification. So what’re the first steps?

Selection. What type of books will be offered? Nonfiction (which topics)? Fiction (classics? new titles? which genres? all the books of a particular author, or only his/her most acclaimed? titles in other languages?)? What about curriculum-based resources?

Purchasing. How will the institution pay for its eBooks? What about managing vendor licenses and policies (especially if the institution purchases from multiple vendors, each with its own lending policies)?

Provision. Sure, eBooks are digital, but that doesn’t mean everyone will be able to access them. Consider the community’s needs: does everyone have a device (computer, mobile device, eReader…) on which to read eBooks? Are the various devices capable of reading the institutions’ eBooks (i.e. compatibility between eReaders and eBook format types)? From where will the institution get its eBooks (which vendor? Are those vendor’s eBooks compatible with the various devices that patrons have? what about managing licenses?)

Troubleshooting. There will be patrons who need help with their devices and/or accessing the eBooks. Sure, they could “ask.com” it, but if they’re having difficulties using their device and/or accessing online collections, how would searching (by oneself) online be helpful? Will the institution offer help to these patrons, or simply supply the eBooks?

This is a very general summary of the process behind eCollection development (hey, I’ve only been at this for a year myself!) but my point is this:

that that person or body of people developing the collection of eBooks would essentially be doing the same job that librarians and library technicians already do, for which they are specifically trained, and for which they develop the necessary skills.

I think one of the key aspects of the job that is often overlooked, but still so vital to the “everyreader’s” information needs, is that of selection–knowing what your community needs and/or is interested in, and how to get it to them. Librarians are educated to:

  • understand a variety of different reading tastes
  • know how to find materials to appeal to those tastes
  • think outside the box in introducing reading material [be it book, magazine, eBook, article, audio Book, website …] that will interest users who don’t think there’s anything of interest out there for them
  • liaise with vendors re: subscriptions and licenses, the type of resources offered with respect to the institution’s needs, support and training, etc.

So in sum, I don’t think libraries or librarians will disintegrate with the rise of eBooks. We like eBooks (and audio books, and eMagazines, et al.), after all, and we want to help our patrons with accessing their favourite titles.

However, I’m not suggesting that the introduction of eBooks hasn’t sprouted all sorts of issues for libraries. Read this article for a great summary of some of the key problems with e-lending (for main issues facing public libraries, skip to pg. 2). There are definitely challenges to be faced, and the thing that keeps libraries going is their passion for providing their patrons with access to information.

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