images.jpgSome excerpts from an article today in Overdrive’s Digital Library blog:

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. …

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



  1. I’m not sure that there’s a “too late” when it comes to libraries converting to ebook offerings. After all, they still have print and AV offerings, and those aren’t going away. Yes, if they had no content now, they’d need to convert right away; but as long as they still have content people can use, they have a cushion. And once they have ebooks, they can let the public know through promotion and marketing campaigns, and the public (especially those who don’t want to buy all their books) will come.

    Personally, I want people to be able to read ebooks on any platform they choose. To that end, libraries would be better suited joining those of us who believe Amazon should be accepting epub formats on their Kindles, like every other device vendor. But if Amazon won’t concede, at least there are plenty of alternatives to Kindles out there… just pick one…

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Steven.

    I hope you are right, and that there *is* a cushion of time for libraries. However, there are many people who have concerns for the future of libraries and e-books and that the demise of print books is sooner than later, as evidenced in the various articles (and their comments) linked in Eric Hellman’s 12/31/2010 Teleread post, “2010 Summary: Libraries are Still screwed” at

  3. To be sure, libraries have some converting and rebuilding to do, to be a part of the digital future. My point is that whether they can do that is really up to the people who fund them, not a deadline they must meet.

    As Hellman states, “libraries of the current sort won’t exist for ebooks.” I’d take that as a given, and start planning for the future library configuration that will exist for ebooks, or the future library that will exist for other content besides ebooks. I know the latter may sound strange, but I think it may be a viable way to allow libraries to exist in the future of digital documents. More likely, there is a way to make it exist with digital documents as a part of its offering. But it will take planning and work to make it happen.

  4. For those who don’t know, Overdrive makes its money providing ebooks to libraries so it’s to their advantage for libraries to build their ebook libraries.

    Right now is the Perfect Storm of bad timing for libraries to go aggressively into the ebook market. Some libraries can’t afford new paper books, let alone ebooks, and the formats and readers are in such disarray that, if a library decides to use a certain format, they may doom themselves to throwing away money.

  5. It’s true that the post was on the OverDrive Digital Library BLog, Marilynn — but not all of the posts on the Digital Library Blog are written by OverDrive staff. This post was written by a library collection manager (yours truly) for a large multi-branch public library system with a booming ebook lending system. (Take a look at the original post for full context).

    Many libraries don’t wait for formats to completely shake out — they invest in the technology that the public wants and needs in order to get in the game. We’re used to formats being used heavily, then evolving and dying out. I’ve been involved in the format transition of many library collections including VHS to DVD and now Blu-ray, audiocassette books to books on CD, Playaways and downloadables; and cassette music to music CDs.

    Public libraries are experienced with constantly evolving collections and ebooks are just the current focus. Ebook use is already proving successful, and getting such heavy use that the equivalent use of print books would wear them out. Libraries are getting a very satisfying ROI on most ebooks.

  6. Re. Kindle and library borrowing capability: Overdrive is not wrong. Libraries are customers and spend lots of money on books. In fact, a great many libraries are customers of Amazon. If what happened when videos became available at the library is a decent analog (and I see no reason why it wouldn’t be) making Kindle editions usable via library borrowing would doubly benefit Amazon. Libraries would buy Kindle editions to lend. There would be more demand for many titles than available user licenses. Patrons who didn’t feel like being wait-listed would just purchase the book, but would still feel good that a copy is available to the community. The model really benefits all.

    The video rental industry had a cow when libraries started lending videos. Then they saw a big uptick in their business as the movies library patrons wanted were already checked out, and thwarted patrons went straight from the library to the video store. The one piece of the dynamic lacking for the e-book model, is that the ‘Friday and Saturday night’ window was an important motivator for video borrowing/rental. Weekends are precious. But Kindle owners wouldn’t even have to leave their house, let alone make another stop, in order to have instant gratification. Humans being human, a great many would just cave and buy it, once they had already tried and failed to get it from the library. And compare the price of an e-book you never have to return to that of a video rental. And this leaves out the fact that a lot of library users use the library as a low-risk way to thoroughly examine material that they are considering purchasing, or reading the first book in a series that they will ultimately buy complete.

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