Are ebooks good or bad for public libraries?

The topic of ebooks has been a hot-button issue for libraries for as long as electronic formats have been available. The transition to ebooks and the digital world certainly presents challenges that libraries must face. Many worry that ebooks will be the end of public libraries as we know them.

The fear many public libraries have is that access to ereaders and ebooks might discourage people from borrowing and purchasing physical books, leading to the disenfranchisement of libraries all around the world. More and more books are available online for free, so why trek to a library to get what you’re looking for when the Internet is so vast?

Additionally, the major book publishers have a drastically different policy for ebooks at libraries than for physical books. A library can buy pretty much any print book and loan it out to as many patrons as they wish. For ebooks, the library has a limited selection and has to pay a much higher price than they do for print books. This makes many libraries nervous about what the future holds for them.

Many librarians reject this fear. Instead, libraries across the country are choosing to see the ebook’s popularity as a good thing – it means that more people have access to books, and therefore more people are reading. And, isn’t that the goal of libraries to begin with? These libraries and librarians are adopting ebooks as a part of their lending catalog, creating programs that are popping up everywhere, and organizing conferences about the potential for libraries’ growth – not decline – due to the popularity of ebooks.

Ebooks and digital audio books are available in more and more libraries every day for borrowers to use. This change has been beneficial for students in college, where assigned textbooks and literature can be prohibitively expensive, not to mention heavy to lug around campus. Seminars are held in school libraries so that students can see how they can access these public resources. An added benefit for libraries is that they don’t have to worry about collecting late fees – the text automatically expires on the students’ devices.

Another significant argument many librarians are making for the inclusion of ebooks and ereaders is that it encourages children to learn, providing them with more resources and more ways to read and learn. They want children to have learning materials available in every format possible and ebooks are just another format to embrace.

Of course, new technology comes with its downsides. In this case, the main concern is tech support. Not every librarian knows how to operate and fix an ereader, for example. To alleviate these issues, many libraries are holding frequent conferences on troubleshooting, how to build an ebook collection, how to include learning apps in their inventory, and how to use the technology themselves so that they can be voices of authority and assistance.

The bottom line is, more and more libraries and librarians are choosing to see ebooks and ereaders not as doomsday omens, but as yet another way that they can encourage the public to keep reading and learning. They realize that clinging to the hardcover past is a quick route to obscurity and irrelevance. And they believe that everyone should have access to the resources they need to become successful in their careers and in their lives.