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Old dog, new tech; new tricks, new problems

I was going to pick up my son from his after-school program today and I was listening to NPR on my radio. I heard a story about the Bear County, Texas, library system. They were implementing e-readers in a big way, and the brief story was about this transition.

I can’t link the story until tomorrow (NPR posts stories the day after they air), but I found another story from last May, and it got me to thinking about e-readers and libraries.

This older story, titled Libraries Grapple With The Downside of E-Books, had information I didn’t know, and created more doubt in my mind about the wisdom of our public libraries moving to more and more e-books. My initial reaction was, “Libraries had better be ready to replace checked-out e-readers A LOT.” John Q. Public can’t take care of his OWN device (how many people have cracked iThing screens?) – do you really expect them to take care of e-readers checked out from the library? Seriously, think about the state of your bathroom at work. Even worse, any public bathroom. Yeah, we see how people treat “public use” property. And remember that, ultimately, these devices are funded by your taxes.  Yeah … they won’t be replacing them as they 1) break or 2) just plain disappear.

But, I was willing to say, “Okay, but maybe they can save money by using e-books.  Nah, that wouldn’t make some business money, would it?

According to the article above, not only are publishers reluctant to make their books available as e-books to public libraries (fearing loss of digital sales – wait, do they think that of physical books at libraries?), but libraries Don’t Own the digital copies they DO lend out. They use a third-party service, in the US that is primarily Overdrive, to rent out these books. And the libraries pay a yearly subscription fee. Guess what happens if you’re library can’t afford it any more, or has to cut down? Bye-bye e-books. In addition to that, the libraries are paying 4 and 5 times MORE for that digital book that they would for a hard-copy text!

It sounds like the college textbook racket to me.

So what do you think: should public libraries lend out e-readers? Can the extra premium of services like Overdrive outweigh the cost of extra librarians, tracking books, etc? Would you change your mind if you knew your e-reading habits were being tracked for market research?

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