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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Ebooks and Libraries

It’s been a busy week, both with what’s been going on online as well as real life. There are a few things about which I’d love to write long, well thought out, brilliant posts, yet, alas, I don’t have the time it would require. As an aside to bloggers and readers out there — if someone doesn’t write about something, do you assume a, they don’t care enough to write? b, they don’t have the time to write? c, you really don’t track what people blog about so it’s a silly question, or d, other?

Harper Collins and ebooks. Libraries, readers, publishers, authors, we’re all asking and discussing and trying to predict the future of books and reading and how ebooks play into this. HarperCollins inspired the most recent plethora of posts about this by introducing, via OverDrive, a limit of 26 check outs on the library editions of their ebooks. After the 26th check out… poof! They disappear. This is so big that I’m not going to recap beyond that, and I’m just going to give a few links for further reading: O’Reilly Radar Publishing News; the Librarian by Day; Free Range Librarian; Peter Bromberg (whose post pretty much sums up many of my own thoughts on the matter); and Agnostic Maybe. The hashtag on twitter is #hcod, and I’ve found it the best way to keep up on what is happening. Edited to add: Information Wants to Be Free.

In the hundreds (no, really) posts and comments I’ve read, I’m left with mostly questions about ebooks, how ebooks differ from print books, and what this means for the future of readers. Will ebooks merely replicate print books or become it’s own artform, in the way that television evolved from plays? Should ebooks be treated just as print books when they are not the same as print books? When bloggers use the term “boycott” do they mean wanting something narrow from one publisher, or is there a bigger issue going on here about ebooks and reading and libraries? If it is a bigger issue, about DRM and licensing and copyright and lending and pricing, what is it that libraries really want, business wise, from publishers and ebook vendors? And I ask, without answering, because it seems like each blog I read has a different answer to that question.

What is the right price point, for both readers and libraries? What are the factors that should go into determining that? What is — dare I say it — fair? And by fair, I mean fair to all of us in the world of readers. Libraries, bookstores, readers, publishers, authors, editors, bloggers, reviewers — we are all part of one community. Necessary tension exists between us because it has to, to keep the system working. Reviewers and bloggers review books, they don’t pander to authors. Publishers are a gatekeeper, sorting through the slush and editing  (and no, I don’t mean spellcheck and grammar) manuscripts to final books and then marketing those books. Libraries advocate and promote books and authors and readers. But publishers just can’t give their books away for free to readers or libraries, and that price has to make it worthwhile for the publisher to stay in business. There is a tension, then, between the consumer and the seller.

There is a question that, as a librarian (and reader!) I get often: “Where are the good books?” While sometimes we librarians may joke, as we look around our libraries, “all these books are good!” the real question being asked is “where is the book that is right for me?” The reason for the question may be recreational, or informational, or educational, but the answer requires knowledge of the collection (whether its print or electronic) and skill (matchmaking a book with a reader isn’t simple). In order to answer that question, libraries need to have the good books. So, somehow, the libraries and publishers need to find a way to make that possible.

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. Jennie says:

    When someone doesn’t comment on a subject, I assume it’s because they just don’t have the time, or it’s been covered so extensively that they don’t feel they have anything to add. Because that’s why *I* don’t comment on things.

  2. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    Oh, yes, I should have added e, everything that could be said has been said and I don’t want to do what is just a “me too” post.

  3. I think I’d rephrase a), into “maybe it’s not what they want to focus their blog on,” and I’d definitely go with b) no time, because that’s usually MY problem (which is why I’m not quite a PROPER blogger), and e) is actually a nice one, too. I’d almost prefer people DIDN’T keep posting about the same things as everyone else when they don’t have anything new to say about it– reading blogs is time-suck enough for me. (Not that I can easily make myself cut back). Also, c), but not exactly, more that it’s just the opposite– I don’t notice so much if someone is NOT mentioning something, but I DO notice if several people mention the same thing.

    I wrote a 3-part series of posts a few weeks ago on ebooks and related issues– I am of the opinion that this SHOULD develop into a completely different art form rather than just being Electronicized Books (actually, I don’t think there’s any such thing as an eBook. A book is a kind of media. What people call “eBooks” are actually eNOVELS or eStories or eWhateverKindofWritingItIs). But I have less opinions on the practical use of eContent in libraries, because our library is decidedly behind the times and so I don’t have personal experience with it. All I know is, whatever happens, libraries need to be a part of all this, or a large portion of the population will be left even more in the dust information-literacy-wise than they already are.

  4. Michelle says:

    I’m going with the idea that some don’t write anything up because of the influx of posts on the same topic. For many it’s easier to comment on what is already out there to get an opinion heard as opposed to bringing it up on their own blog. I don’t think it has anything to do with apathy at all just plain old saturation I suspect.

    As it relates to eBooks, like you, I can see all of the sides. I do understand that the publisher has to make money but what interests me is the idea that a library could puchase a hardcover or paperback and not have any circulation limits (that’s correct right?) but an eBook does. The argument could be made that they’re both books so why the differentiation? Is the difference because they’re making less money on eBooks outright so they have to find other ways to compensate? I couldn’t rightly say. But there has to be more to it than simply a publisher wanting to turn the screws on libraries. Mainly because (as this HC situation demonstrates at some level) they certainly don’t want backlash be it “boycotts” or bad press or diminished sales in general.

  5. Deb Miller says:

    Depends on the topic—any of those reasons could be true for any given person—so, not sure I would assume others’ reasons for not commenting on a specific topic. BUT . . . interesting to think about! Thanks for the challenge. So many topics . . . So little time!

    I can think of topics about which I’ve never written for every one of your suggested reasons :-)

    My not writing about football, for example, would be due to total and complete apathy.
    Not writing about a beloved book recently read, on the other hand, could be due to either not enough time, or fear of not doing it justice.
    Not writing about war in the middle east, in my case, would be b/c others can and do express my anti-war sentiments with much greater expertise.

    But first and foremost, it has to do with balancing time and obligation—-never mind intention.

    All of the above also applies to what we don’t read. I do enjoy reading this blog—when I have the time :-)

  6. Angela Carstensen Liz B says:

    rocknlibrarian, great point about ebooks and books and enovels etc. Agreed that we need to be a part of it…. how that will all play out remains to be seen. I mean, Kindle is so popular yet no library lending! If Kindle becomes the dominant reader, where does that leave libraries? and we need to add a new letter… f? g? h? for technical issues preventing any blogging/posting for several days

    michelle, i find i do that, also, for some topics; comment at places yet don’t feel the need to add another post to the conversation. participating in the conversation at other blogs is enough. one of the things i liked about the current #hcod conversation is its the first time (or at least it’s been awhile!) that I saw library blogs that usually never talk about reading talking books, and book blogs talking about library issues beyond what they borrowed.

    Deb, time! Eek. I always am feeling like I don’t have enough time and maybe I should sleep less.

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