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eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference

How eBooks Impact Libraries, Publishers & Readers

Brian Kenney, Barbara Fister, Eli Neiberger, and Steve Potash

Eli Neiberger started out the presentation and is freaking brilliant.  Let me say that again.  Eli is brilliant.  Libraries can’t disassociate themselves from format.  We’ve fared through other outmoded technologies and formats over time, so looking at those changes might help us move forward with eContent.  Those who survived the crash of vinyl are thriving.  Vinyl sales have tripled recently.  But the 8 Track was a transitory technology.  They were successful as a convenience format, but were quickly replaced with something much more convenient – the cassette tape.  He even talked about candles as an outmoded format, but we still use them for ceremony and atmosphere.  Same with gaslamps.  The built infrastructure to support this technology in communities were able to be converted and built-upon to support future technologies (electricity, etc.).  The typewriter is outmoded and it disappeared except for those who use it as a symbol or to make a statement.  At the same time, the descendants of the typewriter (physical and virtual keyboards) still use the same format.  Movable type technologies from printing presses to modern printers changed the same way.  Will the future of the Book follow the model of vinyl (niche, statement-driven, small) or 8 tracks (outmoded and laughable)?  The model of the candle or the gas lamp?  The model of the typewriter?  Will someone who has a book collection look as eccentric as those who have typewriter collections?  Or is the future of the eBook like movable type?  Is the eBook the future of text distribution?  If so, libraries are screwed.  The copyright lies with vendors and copyright owners, not with the users and consumers of the information.  The value of library collections are rooted in the worth of a local copy.  The locality of a copy is relatively meaningless now with the advent of the web.  The notion of a copy loses its embodied value when there is no difference between transmission and duplication.  That might change, but right now it creates a huge problem.  Most people will soon have internet access in their pockets.  The idea of owning a copy of media will be baffling to future generations.  Why have a local copy?  Access when needed from “the stream.”  Using the library is likely to remain an inferior experience for digital content because of DRM and selection of content, as libraries are not able to buy everything in digital format that individual consumers are.  The circulating collection itself is a technology that has become outmoded.  The internet and the digital distribution of content has made this happen.  The peak of physical circulation has already occurred.  We need to pay more attention to digital circulation of content.  Libraries used to actually be for storing and providing access to the content from the community, to protect and ensure access to local records and unique items — not bestselling romance.  We need to re-center on that purpose.  Why not make the library the publisher?  A platform for the community to create and store unique data?  Everyone is a publisher.  But everyone agrees to restrictive terms for accessing digital content every day, and there is not a groundswell of support for change to this.  Libraries need a fair use exemption to allow us to lend digital content.  But more than anything, the circulation of content is a dying method of distributing content.  We need to prepare for that.

Steve Potash, the President and CEO of Overdrive, spoke next.  Potash says that his company’s work with libraries has been “a journey.”  eBooks are now in 2/3 of American libraries, up from 38% in 2005.  Circulation of eBooks went up 73% from 2009 to 2010.  He wants library subscribers to know they will get a good return on investment for the books they buy from them.  They’re releasing more information on their updated mobile apps and a new mobile user experience that enables first time users on the web to go to the library app and see books and with one click read the books.  (I’m glad to hear they’re simplifying the mobile apps, because they are currently unusable, imho.)  He also noted that they’re adding DRM-free epub format books too (also good).  They’re adding open access to Project Gutenberg and other free eBooks through Overdrive’s interface as well.  Today they offer over 70,000 eBooks under the LEAP program (Library eBook Accessibility Program) through a partnership with Bookshare.  (This is free to libraries, so if you’re not using it, check it out.)

Barbara Fister spoke next very briefly.  The publishing industry is facing some huge problems in that they’re trying to allow for an antiquated business model that doesn’t really work for digital content.  The use of publishing text books and eBooks and trying to make money, don’t sign anything that won’t let you share content.

“eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference: How eBooks Impact Libraries, Publishers & Readers”

  1. The Future of the eBook | Library Media Diva Says:

    [...] Librarian in Black: How Ebooks Impact Libraries [...]

  2. rcn Says:

    Did Steve Potash say anything about providing direct eBook support to patrons – as other eBook vendors do – without requiring library staff to be in the middle of the process?


  3. Rachael Says:

    RCN – Yes, he did, but they want to charge for it.

  4. Sarah Says:

    RCN – He did mention that, as well as some of the other services they offer and/or will offer in the future. Honestly, once it became clear that his part of the talk was a sales pitch for their product I rather tuned out. I know what they have and we have it at the library now. I don’t need another pitch.

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