Thinking about the future of reading

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at a meeting of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium considering the implications for libraries of e-readers and downloadable electronic books. I was pleased to be invited, because it gave me the chance to clarify my thinking about this complicated topic. I spoke about the OWHL’s experience with our two Kindles and new nook and our plans for a set of 5 Sony PRS-300’s that we have just ordered. I talked about the diverse electronic collections that we currently have, and our plans for future collection development. And then I confessed that I had far more questions than answers, and what I really wanted to do was to share the questions with the group, to see what my colleagues are thinking about these topics that keep me up at night.  Despite an excellent discussion, the questions mostly remain unanswered.
So I have decided to pose them to you.

1. Can we foresee a point in time when we (libraries) no longer collect physical books? What is the time line? What do we do with the print collections that we currently have?

2. With the pressures on our budgets, how long can we afford to collect the same book in redundant formats? (Print, Large print, CD audiobook, Downloadable audiobook, eBook?) If we have to give some formats up, which ones will go? How do we decide which formats to collect for any given title?

3. We belong to a library consortium. Our delivery systems were set up to facilitate the sharing of physical items. What are the implications for Inter-network Transfers of the explosion of electronic content?  Freed of geographic limitations associated with physical transfer, could we share materials with a much larger group of libraries?

4. The FCC has indicated that it views broadband access as a right, and has published a 10-year plan to get us to ubiquitous, very high speed connectivity. Consequently, we should anticipate that residents of poorer communities who are currently electronically disenfranchised will  have the ability to download books (and movies, and audio.) In this case,  how long should we continue to collect CDs and DVDs?

5. What are the implications for shared collections (such as our in NOBLE) when individual libraries decide to purchase (or lease) electronic materials under contracts that limit the materials to that library’s patrons?    How should the records for these materials appear our shared catalog?

6. Should we provide subscription access to e-book collections for use on the user’s own device? (We currently do this for downloadable audio)  If our patrons can select and download titles from these collections without coming to the library, how can we add value to the transaction?

7. Given that many of the books that we select never circulate, should we dedicate a portion of our book budget for the purchase of ebooks to be installed (and loaned) on library e-readers “on demand?”  If we do this, what counts as a circulation, the loan of the device, or the use of the title?

8. It’s not an ereader, but will the iPad change everything? Can we afford to acquire ereaders before we see what happens with the iPad?

Feel free to share your ideas.

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