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