Libraries and e-books

This panel discussion raised some negative points, many already familiar:

  • Risk of lending new format in current climate of budget cuts
  • E-readers use proprietary software – each system wants to own you as a customer – problem of multiple incompatible formats
  • The value of e-books in education: lack of coherent evidence of how e-books are really making a difference to young peoples’ learning
  • Parts of this conversation still sounded like “reading print books = good” and “e-reading = inferior”
  • The publisher on the panel suggested that there was no point in committing to a platform or device yet because rate of change so fast
  • Disability Discrimination Act  and variable compliance of different e-readers

Some positive points and opportunities:

  • Growth of transliteracy (fluency across range of platforms) – boost argument for providing a range of options in e-reading
  • E-readers are now mass-market – this has been a big change in last few years, and many more people are now enfranchised and able to use this technology
  • Is it more acceptable for public libraries to provide e-books than DVDs [on the basis of education value]?  What about charging for them?
  • Is literacy getting worse in the UK? If so, digital options might open up reading for those who do not like print books
  • Enabling access to e-books fits with model of librarians as learning enablers not gatekeepers of physical space
  • Some publishers are worried that when consumers discover they can borrow e-books for free from libraries, they will stop buying them themselves, but this didn’t happen with print books
  • Difference between making available a digital version of a textbook versus publishing a born-digital e-book


The online access model currently used for e-journals works well – why can’t we encode an e-book in HTML5 with options for download format? [I am not techie so if you know, please tell me why this isn’t possible!].  This would get around platform issues for smartphones as they all have some sort of web browser.  In academic libraries, no-one talks about the digital divide in context of e-journals.

I would love it if public libraries could start lending a range of different things beyond print books – some already have toy collections, and what about other things that people often use for a short time and don’t need any more?  Camping equipment… most of the contents of my loft?

What about the role of e-books to ease pressure on popular print titles in academic libraries, especially medical textbooks which are bulky and often students only need one section at a time?

Teaching information literacy is only a small part of delivering education in schools. Most learning is still prescribed, didactic. Research, citation etc still relevant to research projects in primary and secondary schools but I don’t think they’re yet a routine part of all school work.

The (predictable) conclusion was the future will be a hybrid of print and electronic books and that the role of librarians will be key.  Let’s make sure we earn this position rather than expecting everyone else to put us there.

Someone asked why is has taken so long for picture books to be available as e-books and the publisher’s answer was that it is difficult to format the text and pictures to display well.  This is odd, as e-journals have successfully been combining text and graphics elements for years. It is expected that epub3 will deal better with more complex layouts.


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: CILIP Umbrella conference 2011 « Laura's Dark Archive

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