In re: ebooks and libraries
The question isn't whether or not people still need libraries. That has never been the question no matter how much people insist on asking it. Libraries have always loaned things that individuals have the option of buying for themselves. Ebooks are no different in that regard. Publishing companies have been having a grand time making up doomsday scenarios about libraries, including often repeating the lie about one copy/one MILLION simultaneous checkouts. Yet there are some publishing companies who, while they profess to be in the business of making a profit, refuse to even sell ebooks to libraries. Hey, I'm not a business person, but I always believed that a sale is a sale is a sale. If I have a product for you, and you have money for me, that was a win-win situation. Apparently, that is no longer the case. But while libraries complain about those companies, I actually don't see how we are the ones losing in that proposition. We've had Overdrive audio since 2006 and ebooks since 2009, and circ hasn't done anything but increase since we launched the collection.
Without including content from companies who would rather not have our money.
Would we buy books from those companies who refuse to sell to us? Of course we would. But, instead, we buy other titles from other publishing companies. And those titles circulate at an alarming rate. Jan-June stats just came out earlier this week and our "web branch" (read: digital collection) is up 132% over the same time period in 2010. 132%. It's hard to say how much better those stats would be if we could buy titles from Simon & Schuster, Macmillan (and if we chose to add Harpercollins titles post #hcod) but the stats look pretty damn good anyway. Patrons are finding new favorites, often from smaller indie publishers, to check out. New authors are moving from "I'll try that" list to the "auto buy" list.
Yes, I still get questions and requests from people who many want to us to buy an author published by one of those companies. Patrons then get an explanation as to why we can't buy that particular title. I don't know if they then choose to buy that title for themselves. That title was always available for them to purchase, even as they were asking the library to buy it for the collection. What I do know is that company/author did not get a sale from me. If the patron chose not to buy it either, then they missed out on two sales. That is a very strange way of making a profit.
What the newspaper letter writers (and the publishing companies) are missing is that availability isn't the same thing as access. Yes, you can buy a book reading device, and you can buy lots of books to put on that device. That doesn't mean it is accessible to everyone. Libraries are about accessibility. It isn't free, of course. A community pools its money (thank you, property taxes) and shares the fruits of that resource. The biggest sin I can think of, as a collection development librarian, is not spending every thin dime I get in my budget. So if you're not selling me your product, or only at terms that are laughable, then someone else will get my cold hard cash until the coffers are dry for the year. Even with many items unavailable for library purchase, I never get anywhere near buying every single title in publication. But of the titles that are accessible to my patrons, they are checking them out. In droves. The more people check out, the more money we devote to the service. In 2007 we spent, roughly, 50k. In 2011, our budgeted amount was 250k with an addition 250k added in, giving patrons more access to more available titles.
So, thank you to all the companies, big and small, who have gotten on this ebook ride with libraries. We are glad to help our patrons digitally meet your authors, either through ebook or downloadable audio. To libraries: we need to be better at getting the word out (to the public and the publishers) that not only are libraries not fading, we're actually growing both in content provided and patrons served.