Webinar: Empowering the Reader in a Digital World

We had hoped to have a group of IP's, (information professionals, what librarians are called these days), attend this, but it didn't work out, and I was asked to go alone and boil it down for everyone else.

The hour-and-a-half presentation by Al Carlson and Chad Mairn was an overview of the e-book phenomenon with regard to libraries, and was aimed at librarians with little assumed knowledge of it.

It's not as good as hearing the presentation, but the slides and notes can be viewed here:

Carlson and Mairn believe that, "history suggests that eBooks will rapidly invade the codex space", and that, increasingly, library web sites will be the way services are delivered, rendering physical circulation of materials, library locations, and courier deliveries obsolete.  But they point out  a number of ways in which current e-book technology and distribution models are problematic for libraries as well as for publishers.

What does a library actually buy when it purchases an e-book from OverDrive or NetLibrary?  What about the profusion of file formats and proprietary DRMs, and all the different e-readers and other devices people want to read e-books with?

They conclude,
  • ePub offers huge benefits to public libraries, but also some threats to libraries as we now envision them.
  • We need to figure out how to exploit ePub’s power without being destroyed by it.
  • Use the Force, but don’t go over to the dark side, even if they offer you candy. ___________________________________________________
Are Carlson and Mairn right?  Will e-books replace printed books as DVD's replaced VHS cassettes?  The analogy is not quite parallel, since DVD's are still physical containers, whereas e-books are digital.  The library owns DVD's outright, whereas it only buys access to download e-books from a vendor, for as long as that vendor has the right to provide it.  But I am inclined to agree that they will, over time, for certain kinds of books.  The New York Times's addition of an e-book bestseller list lends weight to the prediction.  Still, for libraries and for publishers, the current e-book distribution model is seriously flawed.

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