A New Year’s Vision of the Future of Libraries as Ebookstores

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Could this library be a vibrant local ebookstore?

Could this library be a vibrant local ebookstore?

As the New Year approaches, I have a vision of the future that brings bookstores to every town and invigorates libraries. In this vision, libraries of the future are our local bookstores. I see a future where libraries let people borrow digital books—or buy them.

Libraries as digital bookstores

Buying ebooks through public libraries gives every town a local bookstore. In 2013, we continued to watch independent bookstores (as well as large corporate bookstores) slip away from our communities. Online stores that offer ebooks continue to grow as more and more people acquire ereaders and tablets. But human interaction and the advice of knowing readers are vital to vibrant reading communities. So why not let our libraries become our in-person digital bookstores?

Almost all libraries in the United States have an electronic catalog and offers ebooks in addition to their paper collections. Allowing people to buy digital books through public library catalogs should be possible with a bit of software development and a few new publisher contractual agreements.

Allowing libraries to sell ebooks can also help solve a few current inconveniences of digital library lending. Today, library patrons must wait for the most popular ebooks. They also have to “return” digital editions so they can’t refer back to them months or years later. But what if someone doesn’t want to wait in an ebook queue or knows they want to keep the ebook permanently? If libraries have the capacity to sell digital books, those eager patrons could simply click a button to own the title.

The vision in Douglas County, CO

Jamie LaRue, Director Douglas County Libraries in Colorado understands this vision. In fact, he may be the one who planted this idea in my brain. LaRue and his team have developed their own independent ebook distribution platform that’s part of their overall library catalog.

One of the features of this system is that some ebooks are available for purchase. If patrons at Douglas County Libraries can’t find the books they want, no problem. They can purchase them directly from the catalog via Bilbary. The ebooks are available for sale in EPUB form, which is a start. The vision is there.

Libraries would make great bookstores

What makes a great bookstore? Here are a few elements: An engaged community of people. Serendipitous discoveries. A welcoming feeling. Helpful, knowledgeable staff members. Community-focused events.

All of these things can and do happen at libraries as well. The only difference is that in bookstores, people purchase the books they’re interested in. In libraries, they borrow them. I’m not suggesting that library patrons buy and walk away with the paper collection. But why not let them purchase and download a copy of any digital book they want?

Almost every town in the United States has a public library. Right now, these neighborhood centers offer access to all forms of media at no extra cost to individuals. Our libraries quietly serve all kinds of content—from bestsellers and classics to obscure scholarly documents and home improvement manuals—to the kids, students, adults, the elderly in our community.

Beneficial to the whole community

Letting libraries sell ebooks can do two things that libraries need now: infuse a bit of new cash and attract the interest of the community’s busiest, most productive citizens. I see everyone, from those chasing the American Dream, to those disappointed by it, to those who’ve ridden the dream to success, all finding the information that fuels them at the public library. My vision of the future may be more of a dream, but perhaps if I share it, the ideas will catch on.

With the ability to purchase digital books at libraries, every town can have a vibrant, warm, personable bookstore. I bet there’s a library right down the street from you right now. Do you see the possibilities?

Happy New Year, all and thank you to our librarians.

Library photo via Shutterstock.

Beth Bacon

About Beth Bacon

Beth Bacon is a children's book author and runs www.e-booksandkids.com. Contact her via Twitter @ebooksandkids.

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8 thoughts on “A New Year’s Vision of the Future of Libraries as Ebookstores

  1. Pingback: A New Year’s Vision of the Future of Libr...

  2. Excellent argument. I think this is a great way for libraries to stay afloat and compete with current models.

    However, don’t you think that companies like Oyster that offer book subscriptions are the same thing? Do you think people will take to the library idea of buying books or use companies like Oyster?

  3. Looks like I’ll have to rain on this parade. Sorry!

    Does the typical town library have the resources to add value to the check-out or buy experience? Will there be samples available? We the services mesh well with a reader that users like? Are there online reviews? How extensive is the collection? Will it be able to tell readers, “If you like this book, you might like this other one.”

    The Internet really does abolish distance, when means that library two miles away loses most of its advantages. It isn’t enough to appeal to local loyalties. To be a success, local libraries will have to offer more than Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iBookstore, and all the various ebook lending services that will my have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of customers.

    It could work, but only if public libraries form a consortium that spreads out the cost of creating services that the public will expect. In practice, this might mean a local template placed on top of a much larger, national system.

    The same is true with publishers. If they want an alternative to Amazon that’s more publisher friendly, hundreds of different publisher websites won’t work. They need an online ebook co-op that’s open to all or at least most publishers.

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  6. You are a little late to the party. Mid-Continent Public Library in Kansas City, MO already does this with a Buy it Now link to Amazon, Barnes & Noble etc. There is no reason for libraries to be the actual vendors.

    As a former librarian I want to make two points. One the libraries are busier then ever because 1 a lot of people are not in the digital age. They don’t have computers, they can’t necessarily navigate the web, they can’t even be bothered to read the directions on the screen half the time. 2 Lots of people are barely getting by and buying books just isn’t on.

    Two what makes you think that your ebooks that you buy today are going to be accessible on the newest devices 3 years from now. Let me count the ways that technology has had us the buy the same thing over and over. Record players, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, CDs and now digital downloads for music. Any one remember floppy discs, the 8\ ones that actually flopped. If I want to keep it I’ll take paper thank you,

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