I have eBook fatigue. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the better part of the week cataloging them for our OverDrive collection. Cataloging eBooks is tedious, to put it mildly. And while I’m cataloging eBooks, I’m noticing that most of the library news in my reader and most of the tweets in my feed are about eBooks.
I’m so tired of hearing about eBooks. I’m even tired of trying to figure out how to spell eBook (e-book? ebook? eBook?) Yes. I understand that libraries must get a handle on this market so we can add eBooks to our collections and offer them to our customers using the most effective and cost-efficient means possible. Just like we did with books and cassettes and VHS tapes and CDs and DVDs. Digital is the new paper. I get that. It’s what we think our users want or will want, and it may very well be all there is in the future, someday. And we want to make sure our rights are protected and that our users’ rights are protected as well.
I follow this flurry of eBook posts, links, and tweets all day, every day. There are so many that I lose track. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you or provide links –you’ve seen them, too, no doubt. And I will be happily attending Ebooks and Access: Upholding Library Values, a workshop/Webinar conducted by Sarah Houghton, an undisputed expert in the field, and sponsored by ALA TechSource. I’m sure I will learn a lot.
And then there’s this: Blog posts that predict the “end of public libraries” based solely on the premise that library success will derive only from eBook success. These posts are countered by articles like this that offer alternatives for libraries to pursue like the Open Library initiative and others like it, providing a good news about the bad news paradox. But again, all about eBooks.
I’m not dismissing the importance of eBooks to libraries out of hand. But…
Why do I have the feeling that libraries chasing after eBooks is like Dorothy fighting flying monkeys and evil witches to get to Oz because she believed she needed the Wizard to get back home? She didn’t need the Wizard. She just needed to use her own two feet.
A library should be more than its collection. We’re always saying that “we’re more than just books.” Doesn’t that include eBooks, too? In all of our clamoring over them, aren’t we furthering the perception that it’s our collection that will keep us relevant and necessary? I know it’s about access, too, but it still comes back to libraries=books in whatever format.
Is it time for the focus to shift to the bigger picture? I love this wonderful keynote from Lee Rainie with inspiring ideas about the role libraries can play in their communities and the role librarians play in “learning communities” and “strategic visions for 21st century libraries.” Yes, digital content will be a part of that, but the word “eBook” was used only once in this entire presentation! Of course, I wasn’t there, but it was refreshing to click through some slides that weren’t dominated by references to eBooks.
And what about this post from The 21st Century Library Blog about measuring customer satisfaction with libraries and using that data in meaningful ways? The word eBook was not used once here, either.
And then there’s this: Pew is going to conduct research about eBook usage and library services in communities, which is a balanced approach to the madness.
I don’t think eBooks are going to make or break us. Our strength lies elsewhere and is yet to be determined for certain. We do need a strategic vision for the future of libraries. I’m afraid we’re not seeing the forest for the eTrees.
Maybe it’s just easier to focus on something specific like eBooks rather than dive into the whole, hazy, difficult discussions about what role libraries will play in a digital world.
We’ll need to do more than click our heels three times to get what we want from the future. But following the Yellow Brick Road to the land of eBooks may not get us what we want, either. After all, the wizard was just a man behind a curtain.