Library News

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It was with sadness that I heard about the financial trouble that Borders Bookstores were having. Not that it is any surprise. What with the all mighty Amazon purchasing ease, the low prices at the all encompassing Wall-Mart  and the rise of the e-book the writing seems to have been on the wall for a while.

So let us take a step back from mourning and think about the good that can come of this. First, what do we love about Borders? Big open spaces, variety, browsing, coffee, weekend entertainers, book signings…and although it would be great  if the remaining Borders could leave their doors open were they really so unique? The big complaint with Big Box stores has always been that they take away from the little guy. Arise yon tiny bookstore, thine time has come again! I would love to see a resurgence in the mom and pop bookstore. As  the coffee shop has shown us there still seems to be a communal joy in being out in public, a need for a sense of community perhaps. Then there are the poorly funded yet still limping libraries. Why is it we can drink beverages in the library now? Borders Bookstores. Libraries saw the need to compete with the upstart bookstore that was making the book discovery process a more pleasant experience. If libraries could manage to market their community services a little better people may just discover that there are a host of activities from the obvious book club to the less obvious concerts, movies and art exhibits happening in our libraries. And they’re free.

One thing I thought was nice about Borders was all of the seating both in the coffee shop and the book store proper. Of course, I could never sit in any of it because they were all consistently occupied. Coffee shop meets living room.  Comfortable, warm, and friendly. There has been argument made that the ability to quietly read in peace and comfort at the local Borders took business away from local libraries. Which could be, particularly when you consider that they had better hours than my local libraries whose funding sadly diminishes with every passing budget scrutinization.

My hope really is that with the rare death of a behemoth we can see a resurgence in the little book store and the library. Perhaps we will just a see larger growth in Amazon, not that I don’t love Amazon, but I hope not.

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On February 24th it was announced that the publisher Harper Collins was going to put a cap on how many times an e-book could be distributed through a library system. The magic number is 26. After the magic 26th time the book will vanish and the library will need to purchase it again if they wish to continue circulating that title. And the uproar in library land is quite visible but will that change anything?

Harper Collins comes to this magic number by deciding that after 26 check-outs of a print library book another needs to be purchased. According to the uproar this is often not the case. And what say we about the ancient library book? On occasion we will purchase a new one because the current print book has gotten rather…musty. Will the next move be to vanish books after they have been owned for a certain period of time? Nothing has yet been mentioned regarding that matter but it is certainly going to be a consideration for publishers in the future.

So what’s the big deal? Software has licensing agreements that change depending on the institution that purchases them, right? Yes but usually it is only the trials that self destruct. In fact, what electronic media do you know of that self destructs after you have legitimately purchased it? I understand that the publishers need to make money and they feel that this will be an added revenue stream but you would think that they would know by now that libraries have limited budgets with which to buy books. A more diverse collection of Harper Collins books will not be purchased if the library has to keep re-ordering the most popular ones. If I was in charge of collection development this would steer me away from Harper Collins except when absolutely necessary. I would actively search for comparable titles from other publishers. And frankly, as a consumer I become fond of certain publishers formats particularly in the non-fiction arena, so if I have less accessibility to a publisher I have less knowledge of their style and when I make my next purchase this renders me likely to purchase with someone else.

Let it be known that not all publishers are on the library e-book bandwagon. Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not sell e-books to libraries. Why? They are “searching for a legitimate business model”  which in my eyes means that they do not see the financial value in allowing people to check-out their books on-line. Although they obviously see the value in allowing people to check out their paper books because they are available in libraries. I would contend that  those who download library books are much more likely to browse off and purchase a book that they would rather not “wait in electronic line” for or electronically “turn back in” (the DRM’d library e-book can only be used for a certain period of time, like checking out a physical book). Additionally those that have readers like the Kindle that are not compatible with the library e-book software are also likely to wander off to purchase an e-book from the library site that they can read on their device instead of their computer.

In the meantime there is talk of boycotting Harper Collins e-books. But I wonder, are libraries boycotting Macmillan and Simon & Schuster paper books because they are not selling their e-books to libraries? I don’t think so. If hurting their bottom-line is the tactic should it not be some kind of united front? Or, perhaps would it be useful for those publishers to sit down with the innovators of library land and explain the problem and work out a way to make things feel reasonable. Some kind of tiered pricing perhaps.

Just like the software, music and movie business, we will see how this shakes out.

Philadelphia Library ClosingNo seriously. The Mayor of Philadelphia, Micheal Nutter, sees this as a healthy way to deal with the fact that Pennsylvania can not pass a budget.

This MSN article spells it out well. But I can not say it better than this editorial in Boing Boing . Indeed, what does this turn of events say about our society?

I understand that information is much more readily available online these days and I understand that there are technologies out there that can allow us to read without the paper book but this assumes one has the means to provide oneself with said technology. This really only hurts those who need the services most, which is a growing number as the unemployment picture remains bleak. I will never understand how society can blindly kick the needy (and usually silent) instead of feeling some discomfort themselves. How can the citizens of Philadelphia stomach this?

It is a shameful situation.


Breaking News! They have just passed the legislation to keep the libraries open. I am still annoyed that libraries were used as a political pawn.