Thursday, November 17, 2011

The bookless library - good idea but there's a catch

Who needs books? by quinn.anya, on Flickr Continuing on the theme of e-books (see earlier posts Why students don't use e-books as much as expected and Library extreme makeover) I'd like to return to the subject of bookless libraries. We've already got banks that have no cash and the paperless office is fully feasible though seldom seen. So what about the bookless library? As sales of e-books and varieties of tablets, e-readers and iPads increase the need for libraries to be filled with books becomes questionable. So let's move out the books and journals and create the library of the future.

But is there a catch here?

There is a problem and that becomes clear after reading an article by Barbara Fister in Inside Higher Ed called The myth of the bookless library.The problem with collections of e-books and e-journals is that the library has to pay a hefty yearly subscription to gain access to them. If you stop paying you lose the collectiuon. Instead of winning freedom by going digital the library commits itself to often extortiate annual fees to maintain its virtual collection. The books you used to buy were not cheap but once they were on the shelf you knew what you had. Not so with much e-literature.

"When you know that a subscription you’ve been spending tens of thousands of dollars on will vanish if you fail to pay the rent, you trim where you can, and for the past thirty years, that’s been the book budget, which is more discretionary than those demanding subscriptions. No wonder university presses and other scholarly book publishers are banding together to license digital book collections by subscription. It seems the only way to guarantee your product will get into libraries is to charge a lot for something that disappears if you stop paying."

Interestingly there is no sign of print book production falling despite the hype. We've never printed as many books as we do now so they won't be disappearing any time soon. It's easy to fall into the trap of seeing all digital resources as free. Yes there are plenty of open educational resources and open access material out there but the publishing industry is busy remodelling its business for the digital market and there's a lot of money being made out there still. The transition to the bookless library will not be such a smooth one.

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic Licenseby quinn.anya 

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