Public libraries also serve their communities as physical gathering places that nurture culture. But libraries have no monopoly on offering free Wi-Fi Internet and comfortable reading and cultural spaces; it’s only a matter of time before Starbucks and others add free ebooks, book clubs, and other content services onto the music and news that they currently offer. Bookstores of all types will not want to be left out of the reading-room market.
It’s unlikely, however, that the Starbucks and Borders of the world are going to want to serve the folks who can’t afford the $3 lattes or the $20 hardcovers. It would be tragic if communities found themselves divided between ebook-haves and ebook-have-nots.
The cheap distribution channels made possible by ebooks will allow libraries to nurture written scholarship in ways that were not possible with print. Cheap digitization will allow libraries to expand the reach of collections, while lowered barriers to publication will help libraries foster written scholarship into the future.
School librarians may well find their space, print collections, and budgets completely devoured by an ebook monster sooner than they imagine; we are only a few years away from ebook reader devices being cheap enough that it will be economically feasible to put an entire school library…. into every student’s backpack. This could be mortal competition for school libraries as such.
Or maybe not. Now more than ever, children need to learn how to find, access, evaluate, and interact with digital information. Devices don’t make that happen by themselves, even if they come with thousands of carefully selected ebooks.
Eric Hellman concludes:
Obviously, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how and when libraries develop ebook services as well as how libraries might best fit in a world where books are mostly consumed via ebook readers. What seems clear is that if libraries just sit back and wait to see what happens, rather than participating in the cycle of innovation and competition, they will end up with diminished roles in our culture. It’s important that we don’t let that happen.
Can’t argue with that. There will be many difficulties ahead in the light of the current economic situation, but it is important that the library service can find a place for technological developments alongside a strong, undiminished book fund. New trends in using the service are emerging, it would seem prudent to take note and put the changes in place to take advantage of this. Far better that than burying heads in the sand and ignoring the obvious change in interaction that is taking place. Ignoring changing trends has led to many businesses falling by the wayside….it will be no different for libraries.