Posted by: Steven Harris | May 31, 2009

Mainstream or Lunatic Fringe?

Thinking about the interlibrary loan of ebooks got me thinking more about the idea of normalizing ebooks, making them part of the standard practice for libraries, not something requiring all kinds of special treatment. But, of course, ebooks are different in many ways, some of which I noted in the previous post. We need to mainstream ebooks in our processes to make them more readily available to library users. But we also need to make sure we continue to exploit the unique features of ebooks. Publishers and vendors are not always on board with exploiting all that is possible with ebooks.

Tiffani Travis told me about a conversation with an ebook vendor in which they extoled only allowing one user at a time because it was just like a “real” book. The same vendor offered printing one page at a time as a virtue for the same reason.

From the other end of the spectrum (excluding ebooks from the mainstream), I read recently that the Madrid Book Fair (Feria del Libro de Madrid) had banned vendors and publishers of ebooks from participating in the fair. Somewhat narrow-minded. The fair organizers think of it as a print-only event.

I know vendors are frustrated with librarians because in the past we said we wanted pricing options that included  one user at a time, but the whole idea of making ebooks adhere to the functionality of a print seems more and more ridiculous. There is little reason for employing ebooks at all if we can’t exploit them for all they are worth.

We need vendors to allow printing, copying, and saving. We also need multi-user possibilities that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Some vendors talk as though we should have to pay for a book for each FTE! Well, every one of our customers doesn’t want to read your book. I’d like a system in which I only pay for multiple copies if there really is simultaneous demand. Otherwise a single user would be adequate.

Guess what? Ebooks are here to stay. They are “real” books. We need them in libraries and we need to make them part of our mainstream. But we also need to make their special features useful and available to library patrons.


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