Digital content is everywhere you look and as it continues to grow, print media is falling by the wayside. Many small local newspapers have already closed and the most recent big announcement of Newsweek ending its print operation soon, only highlights this more. This is also being felt in the book publishing world and has a major impact on libraries. It is significantly cheaper to produce and deliver an electronic book to a consumer then with a print book. It is also far more convenient and cheaper for the consumer. Considering the average bestseller is about $10.00 cheaper in electronic format than in print, and that a major brand name eBooks reader can be purchased for less than $100, a regular reader can quickly realize savings without having to cart around the heavy paper book or store when they’re done.
It wasn’t long after eBooks hit the mainstream that library users wanted the same convenience. In Westchester, libraries are delivering this service to their patrons and it is being met with overwhelming popularity. There are more than 13,000 eBooks available for patrons to download. All they need is a library card from a library in Westchester. And how popular is it? In 2011, library patrons downloaded just over 87,000 items from our catalog. This year, we’ve already circulated well over 120,000 as of the end of September.
As wonderful as it is to be able to offer the service, it is not without its challenges. All of this material must be licensed from the publishers. It comes at a significant cost, much more than print media. The library must pay the publisher for each simultaneous use of a book in electronic form. Therefore, if we want to make it possible for two people to read the same book at the same time we must purchase two licenses. Sometimes it is challenging to explain why someone must wait for digital copy of a book. However, we have found that once people understand that the material is licensed and that they have to wait in order for the checkouts to not violate the publishers rules, they are happy to wait their turn. In 2013, WLS is undergoing an even further expansion of its eBooks offerings to the public. It is also begun a more complete integration of eBooks into its online catalog so that people can find what they want for one simple search. We launched a new online catalog in October!
It’s often asked if this means the end of print books and of the physical library building. I don’t think so. Libraries will likely always have some books and sometimes nothing beats holding a print book in your hand. I also don’t think the physical library is going extinct. However, it is evolving. The concept of the library as community center is already becoming a reality. Visit your local library and check out the programs that they are offering the public. It has been a long time since the library is only a place for print books. It is now a place where people go to experience books. Story times, book groups, and the like, are commonplace in every library. Libraries are a center for innovation, a place for research, a portal to discovery and much more. Part of that discovery and innovation is the introduction of eBooks into the library model.