Guest Post: The More Formats Change . . .
Hey Chicken Little, the sky is still up there. I mean, that acorn that fell on your head has fallen down, but there’s still plenty of sky.
As a music and film librarian, I get asked almost daily about “when are we going to stop carrying discs?” My answer is always, “when people stop checking them out.” Which I’m guessing will be for a while, since my circulation numbers are still healthy and iTunes is over a decade old. Let’s face it, we only got rid of our VHS collection last year--and the few that could still play were still going out.
Sometimes, my answer also includes “when did you last listen to a CD or watch a DVD?” People seem to think that EVERYONE is streaming and downloading everything except, of course, for themselves. I've heard “but I’m old,” or “I don’t like watching things on my computer,” or “mp3s don’t sound as good as cds” or whatever excuse they have for using physical media they feel sets them apart. But there are lots of people who think the same way. Sometimes you stream, sometimes you use a physical product, sometimes you use broadcast. The market is fragmented to be sure, but there’s room for all kinds of content delivery. In fact, physical CD music sales were UP in 2011. Blu-ray disc sales were also up. People like “stuff” and that means they will, at least for the near future, continue to have players to play this stuff on.
Libraries are wonderful providers of stuff, especially stuff that not’s always readily available. Redbox isn’t going to have a DVD on doing ceramic tile, and it just wouldn’t be cost effective for Netflix to acquire streaming rights for something like that. Titles for homeschoolers, How-To guides, documentaries, language instruction, and tons of other things are just made for the library market--and I don’t see the demand for that going away.
I’m not saying that there won’t come a day where there are no discs. Content delivery is completely in flux right now. But there are a lot of bandwidth issues alone that would have to be sorted out before any sort of streaming completely takes over. Another complication is the question how digital rights management is going to shake down. It’s just too soon to tell what is going to happen and how libraries will fit in, or if even more options for content delivery will be appearing on the market. It’s impossible to know what will be created or what will be chosen by the public. The only thing I do know is that the majority of the public moves pretty slowly. Libraries need to stay abreast of new content delivery advances, but also need to stay aware about what their patrons are actually using. Right now, that’s still discs, and I’ll bet we’ll carry on using them through the 2010s.
Amy Dalton is the music and film Collection Development Librarian at the Indianapolis Public Library. You can also find her at Criminal Element, where she is a contributor.