…in my post With goats and cats perhaps the library should become a zoo I said this, “I do believe that a public library belongs in every community. However, dismissing out of hand those who don’t share these beliefs would be a mistake. If we’re not careful, we will be too busy basking in the glow of our own sunshine that we will completely miss the approaching storm.”

In the past few days, since the whole Amazon/Kindle/Overdrive thing has become a reality–a partnership that the library world was actually looking forward to–I have felt a sense of dread. And then, after reading Bobbi Newman’s post,  Public Library eBooks on the Amazon Kindle – We Got Screwed and James Weinheimer’s post, Technology advances, that sense of dread has settled in for a long stay, I fear, because I think this could just be the storm  that I was afraid might materialize.

And it’s made me think this, although I really, really hate to say it: Maybe we (public libraries) have been on the wrong track all along by venturing into the ebook market. Really, we had no choice. We had to try. But, considering this latest offering by Amazon and Kindle, how can libraries even hope to compete with that level of customer service, convenience, selection, availability, etc.? Let’s face it, popular titles for the ebooks we do offer now are hard to come by. There are always holds and long waits. There are too many customers who will be willing to pay a yearly fee to Amazon for unlimited access to their stuff. Even the download process is cumbersome compared to the “one-click” Amazon purchase. Public libraries cannot compete on this playing field and maybe it’s time we consider changing the game. Is the money we’re spending on ebook collections really going to pay off by drawing in more users? Or should we be spending that money in other ways?

As James Weinheimer said in his post, “Changes are taking place at a bewildering pace now. How can libraries fit in, or even keep up? I think that there is a huge need for librarians, but the field needs to take stock to figure out what it is that we provide that is genuinely unique, and build on those strengths.”

Somehow I don’t think providing access to ebooks is going to be one of our “unique strengths.” I think we are going to pale by comparison. But that doesn’t mean that we still don’t have a place. We absolutely do.

Bobbi Newman summed it up well-

“I want to be angry about the bad deal we’re getting, but I’m not even sure who’s screwing us and I don’t know who to be angry with. I could be angry with Amazon, but they are in business to make money. I could be angry with ALA because they have totally blown it on the books issues, but they are a nonprofit that gets a new president every year and is mostly run by volunteers, and I’m not totally sure they can speak for all the libraries.  I could be angry with OverDrive, but they are business too and I think they did their best to do right by us. I could be angry with the government and political system that have allowed a valuable institution such as public library system to be bullied and dominated by profit hungry businesses, but I wouldn’t even know where to start with that whole ball of mess. I could be angry with the consumer who doesn’t seem to care about privacy and is willing to spend money and sacrifice so much for just a little convenience, but I don’t know how to make them see or, more importantly, care.  I could be angry with me, because it doesn’t matter how many blog posts I write or how many presentations I give I feel like I’m standing alone shouting into the dark about how we’re getting the shaft and I don’t know what to do to make a difference, a real difference. I just don’t know.”

Everybody’s complaining right now about the lack of leadership in Washington–leadership that is needed to bring the country back from the brink of economic disaster. The library world desperately needs leadership right now, too. We need a leader or leaders to bring us back from the brink of extinction. We are teetering there, but I strongly believe that libraries can continue to thrive and have longevity if we find our niche, which may be something that we just haven’t even latched onto yet. We need a place of strength. Something we can do that nobody else can do better. We do many things well, but that’s not going to be good enough to secure funding when money is so tight. We all need to rack our brains to think of new and different ways that libraries can distinguish themselves. It’s not going to be in the ebook business.

There are too many bright, dedicated, motivated, innovative (yes, innovative) people working in this field to simply roll over and allow our relevance to be called into question.

The people who use and love libraries will not abandon us. But there are too many people who don’t care about libraries to begin with. They are not going to be impressed by our ebook offerings. What can we do to impress them? Or at least impress upon them the need to keep us around.