Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

Are E-books Going to Kill Libraries or Refashion Them?

I’m referencing two stories today, both concerning New York, the world’s second largest city—one about the New York Public Library and one about The New York Times e-book bestseller list.

I often do a search on this blog after I’ve discovered another site’s story to see if I’ve written past posts that are relatable.

When I plunked the word “e-book” into the search box up there, I noticed that many of the post titles mentioned libraries—makes sense if you follow the changes happening in our BookWorld.

Just to remind ourselves what a library can be, in this world that seems to be morphing into a digital dreamscape, here’s a quote from the first article, The Bookless Library:

“…libraries are not just repositories of books. They are communities, sources of expertise, and homes to lovingly compiled collections that amount to far more than the sum of their individual printed parts.”

While it’s still true that libraries acquire more traditionally-published books than self-published, the second article, Four self-published authors on New York Times ebook bestseller list, relates this truth:

“…’readers are more focused on a good story that they can enjoy instead of where the book was published…Thanks to the internet they can research books before committing time and money on them.'”

It’s also true that folks can research books at the library before buying them.

Yet, that’s only true if the library already has the book and one is willing to leave home

If you peruse some of those past posts that the search for “e-books” yields, you’ll see that quite a few libraries are redesigning themselves to attract more patrons and working to bring e-books into the building.

The Bookless Library says:

“…several hundred prominent writers and academics, have gone so far as to allege that the NYPL’s new president, Anthony Marx, formerly the head of Amherst College, sees the libraries of the future less as repositories for books and learning than as glorified Internet cafés.”

Yet, further along in the article:

“Since 2010, a consortium of libraries, foundations, and other organizations has begun to create a so-called Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), that will, in the words of its mission statement, “make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all.” The DPLA aims to bring together work already digitized by a range of electronic initiatives…”

Also, I assume libraries want to have all the bestsellers available for their patrons.

Yet there are now digital books, that have never smelled like paper, becoming bestsellers.

In the article about The New York Times e-book bestseller list, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, says:

“We knew this day was coming. Self-published ebook authors are landing on the New York Times bestseller list in a big way [and] lightning struck multiple times….It’s a big deal to see a single Smashwords author on the New York Times Bestseller list, let alone four in one week. A year ago, it was unheard of. A year from now, it’ll be more commonplace.”

David A. Bell, author of The Bookless Library, is an historian of early modern France at Princeton University, yet he wrote a fascinating fictional look into the future in his piece:

“One nightmare scenario is all too easy to imagine. The year is 2033, and the Third Great Recession has just struck. Although voters have finally turned the Tea Party out of office in Washington, the financial situation remains dire across the country. New York City in particular faces skyrocketing deficits as a result of the most recent Wall Street wipeout, and the bankruptcy of Goldman Chase. In City Hall, a newly elected mayor casts a covetous glance at the grand main branch of the New York Public Library. Think how much money the city could save by selling it, along with the thirty remaining branch libraries scattered throughout the five boroughs. After strenuous negotiations, the mayor announces a deal with Googlezon, under which the company will make fifty electronic copies of any book in its database available at any one time to city residents, for two-week free rentals on the reading device of their choice. Two years later, where the main branch library once stood, the mayor proudly cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Bryant Park Mall. As for the services once performed by actual librarians, these have now been replaced by a cloud software package, with customer service representatives standing by online in case of technical difficulties (most of them physically located in suburban Manila).”

Then, he goes on to sketch-out a far more positive and believable future for libraries

So, what are your thoughts and feelings about self-publishing, e-books, and libraries?

Will print books disappear?

Will libraries disappear?

Will traditional publishers disappear?

Will the world ever stop changing??
Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com
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6 responses to “Are E-books Going to Kill Libraries or Refashion Them?

  1. martinaseveckepohlen August 14, 2012 at 4:26 am

    When I look at my google alerts for e-books I find more and more references to libraries that have included e-books in their programs. At the same time the newsletter for publishers and booksellers is full whining about e-books. At the moment it feels as if libraries are going their own ways, inventing new services for readers without the help or interference of the great publishers.


  2. Alexander M Zoltai August 14, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Absolutely, Martina.

    Libraries are also dealing with groups of independent publishers to work around the stinginess of the legacy-breed and obtain e-books :-)


  3. Barbara Blackcinder August 15, 2012 at 8:24 am

    While I don’t envision the ending of printed books simply because we are possessive by nature most of the time, even despite the overwhelming ease of convenience, the change is inevitable towards modified libraries. Already libraries have changed greatly from simply repositories of books, just to keep up with the electronic devices, some of who’s usefulness has already come and gone, such as Microfiche, as well as VCR tapes and even compact disks to some extent, but have developed to centers of education. Perhaps the fear of this ending is more a loss of our social connections, our ability and willingness to stay home and not have to physically interact with the rest of the population. This is a larger fear, one that overwhelms even the demise of libraries, itself a tragedy.


  4. Barbara Blackcinder August 15, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Another great article Alex. :-)


  5. Alexander M Zoltai August 15, 2012 at 9:17 am


    This sentence of yours is extremely perceptive:

    “Perhaps the fear of this ending is more a loss of our social connections, our ability and willingness to stay home and not have to physically interact with the rest of the population.”


  6. Alexander M Zoltai August 15, 2012 at 9:17 am

    TY :-)


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