E-reader use grows… how will it affect libraries?

While reading the NYTimes today, I came across this article about the rising e-reader use of children (here).  In the article, the mother states that she likes it because now she doesn’t have to lug around 40 pounds of library books.  This is great – her library has free e-reader downloads in addition to the classics that can now be downloaded for free since they are now in the public domain! What about all the other libraries that do not have free e-reader downloads or well-stocked e-book libraries available to them?  What other drawbacks might we see as this progresses?

My first concern was actually whether or not children could just download books without the parent’s knowledge, thereby running up a large credit card bill without any sort of knowledge or approval.  I know that at least one family with whom I am acquainted has been able to set up their 8-year old’s Kindle with some  sort of parental approval required on the Amazon account the e-reader is hooked up to.  I’m not sure if this holds true for other e-readers, but it would be worth looking into – especially since many libraries and schools now have wi-fi, and it could be a potential problem.  Does any one out there know anything about any of the other systems and how well you can restrict purchases by children?

I think that it is wonderful that we are starting to draw children back into reading in what ever format – digital, paper, etc. What we have to do now is to reinforce this.   I know that some libraries are able, through grants or approvals in their budgets to develop e-book libraries.  There are several issues, however, that the library should really consider.  First, how will patrons be able to access this collection – will they have to purchase their own e-reader or will the library check out modified e-readers that must be returned.  Second, with the growth of e-reader apps for computers, will these patrons be able to “check out” or even share information on library e-books to their computer, iPad and other e-reader apps or will it be restricted by the Digital Rights Management  (DRM) software.  Third, how will the DRM software be enacted – e-books have the capability to provide many more patrons with access to the same materials, but will libraries be able to check out titles to more than one person at a time?  Finally, what will the real costs and benefits be to libraries?

Are patrons going to be able to access books in the collection the same way they access the current materials in the collection?  I know that at Onondaga County Public Library’s Central branch in Syracuse, NY the library had a page on the website set up so that patrons could download audio books straight to their computers and then transfer it to their listening devices, but it was time restricted through DRM software and required additional programs to be downloaded to the user’s computer.  I do not know if this is still active as I am no longer a registered user there, but the few times I navigated it were time consuming and frustrating.  However, patrons could easily find title information through the catalog.

Once the patrons access the books, how will they access the content.  I’m not going to use my library’s e-book collection if I have to go out and buy an e-reader for my own use.  This might also create compatibility issues as NOOK BOOKS and books for the Kindle are not supported by the other reader.  But, if the library has e-readers for checkout then how will they ensure that these valuable pieces of technology come back?  Even disabling all of the wi-fi and other ordering functions might not be enough to guarantee that the materials are returned to the library.  And how does the library ensure that only the content that the user desires is located on the e-reader?  It would take a lot of effort to consistently delete and restock the e-readers, which would take staff and volunteers away from other important duties.

What about those of us without e-readers for one reason or another, who use the free apps on our computers and handheld devices?  Will we be able to access the library’s materials?  Or sync our pages to our computer to use it at another time?  Currently, much of the DRM software restricts this access to one device and that means that we are creating a barrier to other patrons that does not fit in with our idea of unrestricted access to library materials.  If a patron with a visual impairment or deficit finds that he or she cannot access the materials through the e-reader, he or she should be allowed to sync it to a computer where the screen is much larger and the accessibility software may be more advanced.

Another problem with those downloads was that only one patron could use them at a time.  It seems to me that with shrinking budgets for both libraries and patrons that being able to provide more materials to more patrons would be the ideal solution for libraries.  Unfortunately, DRM software restricts us in our abilities to do so as libraries – creating another barrier to access.

Finally, each library and library system would need to complete a cost-benefit analysis to determine the true costs to the implementation of such a program.  As I said before, I’m all in favor of getting people to read (I am a librarian), but creating barriers to parts of the collection goes against what I believe in… What do you think?


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