Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Libraries need to put content online

                Uris Library Stacks
            Originally uploaded by
Libraries are nowhere near a future where everything is online. Books and information will stay in print for many, many years to come, but we need to position ourselves to not just provide services online (such as marketing through social networking sites, or online reference), but start providing content online, whether as a digital distribution center for e-books, or by providing our own content that is easy to access. 

My first foray into e-books increased my reading habits. My library didn't have a large budget and we had to be very efficient. When I was the collection development librarian, the director wanted Science Fiction titles from LOCUS (he circled what he wanted), but they never circulated.

When I became the director, I ran into a dilemma, there were books I wanted to read, but I couldn't justify the costs if it was just for me. However, when an opportunity came to subscribe to the largest e-book consortium in the state, I jumped at the chance. It was 20,000 e-books for only $20,000, one dollar per book. By doing that, I opened up the possibility of so many more books for our patrons at a low  cost (that was equal to one fifth of our entire print collection added immediately), and for myself, I now had far greater diversity and selection. Since then, I have always been excited about e-books and about what they can do.

Vendors like Overdrive, Netlibrary, and MyILibrary all provide e-books and e-audiobooks online through library websites. Libraries pay for this content so that the information can be freely accessed by the public.

Overdrive continues to make steps into the library's future. The recent announcement that they will make e-book content directly downloadable to smart phones (http://www.teleread.com/2010/05/19/overdrive-to-release-ebook-reading-applications/) (just like they already do with audiobooks) demonstrates a strategy that is in line with the library's future as it connects online content with a mobile delivery system.

E-books evolving
This is the game changer. If all e-reader devices, from iPod touches, iPads to Kindles, can download material from the library it would be a different world. A free book option provided by libraries would change how we view e-readers. There will be more devices that can read e-books that aren't just for e-books. With so many ways to read a book, having a free option would be wonderful. Furthermore, librarians will need to learn more about these devices as they are multiplying like rabbits. One Library Journal Editor commented at BEA:

"affordable ereaders are going to drive you all crazy" -- B&T's Coe to librarians, on future of collection development for devices #dod10                                   
less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone                                                                                   

We also need more training in this area and to be able to support this technology. At BEA:

Teleread: BEA: Tomorrow’s Library in the World of Digits
Libraries are becoming “IT” services for consumers and they need to train their own people better.

It's dissapointing that libraries aren't considered partners with publishers and vendors in ebook distribution. This excellent article explains where libraries need to be in regard to ebooks.

Librarians to Ebook Creators and Sellers: Library Model Needed (Library Journal)


In order for us to help you sell and promote your e-books, we need you to sell or license them to us in a manner that works with our business model.
-      Provide for electronic check-out to customers similar to how we lend hard copy items.
-      Offer popular titles at reasonable prices.
-      Provide e-books in standard format with standard digital rights management.
-      Offer them to individual libraries and allow libraries to pool resources by selling to groups and consortia.


Many are concerned about the content delivery going through library vendors instead of through the library. The library currently subscribes to databases that are not housed in the library, but require librarian navigation and troubleshooting. That content still serves the public and tax dollars support it so that everyone can have equal access. That's the basic model of librarianship. We pool community resources to better the community by providing services and access to content, not necessarily providing the content ourselves.

Destroy your microfilm machine, libraries provide digital content
Many libraries house history collections and microfilmed newspapers. There should be a major push to digitize which will bolster library collections. Part of libraries continued relevance online. The library is one of the few places that collection this type of resource, particularly local in nature. Publishing our own resources as well as partnering with local history centers to digitize their materials should be the next steps in library service evolution.

Much of my frustration is the need to destroy microfilm machines in libraries. These expensive tedious machines represent such an anachronism today. You can sit down on a computer and look at a historical digitized newspaper which can take minutes for a patron or a librarian to look up, or you can scroll through reams of microfilm for hours fruitlessly.

Digitization projects are very expensive, so bringing up this point seems indelicate, but I get frustrated at many librarians who would simply say, "Sounds great, if we could afford it." I think it is important enough to place some focus upon it. In California, there are two good online repositories for digital collections, Online Archive of California and California Newspaper Project. Both of these agencies are great at organizing information and providing permanent access to collections. There are also private library vendors that can perform the same amount of work with assurances that the items will be properly formatted for the future. I think this needs to be more of a priority for libraries to make this content easy to access and better preserved.

What's next?
What other content can we provide online and how can we make that content easy to use. Not just online, but downloadable to devices. If an iPad can read it, highlight, and edit this content, it becomes infinitely more useful for future generations. Instead of researchers having countless photocopies and clipping, they can have access to everything through one device and be able to replicate that content if necessary. That cannot happen, however, if that information isn't digitized and preserved and formatted in a way that it can be accessed in the future.