January 16, 2013

Centralized ebook lending and the first bookless library


An artist’s conception of what the bookless library in San Antonio will look like.

The trend toward digital reading has already inspired some new 2013 developments for libraries. This week, Library Journal reported on recent partnerships between top library digital content providers and the official launch next week of something called eResource Central (eRC). This combined database will allow libraries to offer patrons one place where they can look up the availability of both physical and electronic books at the same time.

Librarians have long argued that the best solution to [the ebook] problem would be one that allowed patrons to find and access all of a library’s print and digital content through a single interface—specifically their OPAC. And, with the launch of eRC, many of SirsiDynix’s 3,600 customers will see the beginning of a tangible response.

To view a library’s print and electronic holdings, and in many cases, access electronic content, patrons “will not need to login again to a different interface,” said Eric Keith, vice president of global marketing, communications and strategic alliances for SirsiDynix. “Right now, there’s such a patchwork of multiple log ins, multiple interfaces that the user has to be familiar with. That’s really what we were trying to avoid. The reason why this has been such a wonderful partnership with these [content providers] like OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, 3M, and Recorded Books, is because they’re after the same thing we are—a user experience that brings all of the information into one place.”

Meanwhile, a report has surfaced about a plan in San Antonio to create a bookless library. “It’s not a replacement for the (city) library system, it’s an enhancement,” explained Judge Nelson Wolff, a Bozar County Judge who is calling his idea for the nation’s first bookless public library system BiblioTech. Once they clear copyright issues, a prototype location will open in the fall.

“We wanted to find a low-cost, effective way to bring reading and learning to the county and also focus on the change in the world of technology,” Wolff said. “It will help people learn,” he said.

The library plans to allow patrons to check out one of about 100 readers. “You check it out for two weeks, just like a library book.” said Krisellen Mahoney, TTSA Library Dean. “In two weeks, your e-book goes dead, so you won’t have anything worth keeping.”

There are significant problems with this plan that aren’t clear in initial reports. An NPR piece on the issue cites an attempt (also in San Antonio) to create  a digital-only library in 2002, which eventually became a library with physical books at the request of patrons and residents. Sarah Houghton, director of the San Rafael Public Library in California offers three major challenges for a digital-only library:

“First, some people simply prefer physical media — they don’t want to read on a device,” Houghton says.

Second, she points to the issue of the digital divide. Those who aren’t necessarily technologically literate may need extra over-the-shoulder help with the devices in a way that would require a large operation and, consequently, a big budget…

…And the biggest issue? Most content is simply not available digitally to license and purchase.

That said, Houghton speculates that libraries will go completely digital in about 100-150 years.





Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.