Books versus other books: fight!


The Washington Post has an interesting article on tensions over print book and e-book collections in libraries.

Some observations:

1) I keep seeing job ads for librarians who can do 3D printing, and digital media, and coding, and makerspaces, and I think these are all great things in general, and great things for libraries to do and participate in, but I really question the perception that public libraries will be irrelevant unless we can do those things. As a really valuable blog post says, We don't have to be cutting edge to make a difference, and the kid who's at the library because they need a safe place to do homework, or because they need a book for school, is as much an essential part of the library's mission as the kid who wants to use the recording studio or the 3D printer. There is good research out there on just how few books low-income kids have access to. This is a serious problem. It's not boring, it's not old-fashioned, it has been one of the best reasons to invest in libraries from the beginning of free public libraries, and it's still relevant in the 21st century.

2) When two things seem to be in competition with each other, the question we sometimes miss asking is: why don't we have enough funding for both? How can we convince people to invest in libraries so that there are enough print books for the people who want print books, and enough e-books for the people who want e-books, not forgetting that these are very often the same people?

3) Let's not forget that there are still a lot of unsolved problems with libraries lending e-books. Publishers have reasons for putting restrictive licensing terms on their books, and they're not evil (mostly), but when they can result in an e-book being significantly more expensive than a print book on a per-checkout basis... I think we have to be a little skeptical. Public libraries, as well as most academic ones, are not-for-profit institutions that depend on for-profit institutions for so much of what we do (some libraries outsource more and some do more in-house, but my library outsources book processing, catalog software, collection development tools...) and that's not a bad thing but it means that we can never take for granted that our missions and goals are going to be aligned.