Morning Poll: Fewer Books, More Downloads?

by ARLnow.com October 31, 2011 at 9:00 am 2,468 33 Comments

As Arlington Public Library contemplates its future, one question that’s being raised is how to prioritize the library’s budget in a digital age.

With more and more library users using e-readers and other electronic means of reading books, some are wondering whether it makes sense to continue devoting such a high percentage of library resources to old-fashioned, hard copy materials (e.g. books and CDs).

Would you want more downloadable content from Arlington Public Library even if it meant less hard copy material?

  • Frivolous

    Not everyone has a touch-pad or smartphone

    • Ali

      Seriously. Some of us can’t afford those and some of us just plain don’t want them. I have devices capable of using e-books but I don’t want e-books. I like tangible books and always will.

      • bemused bystander


      • Chris (no not that one)

        I don’t think this is an all or nothing type proposition. I see it as more like buying 5 copies of the brand new book in hard copy and 2 licenses to the book in electronic version, instead of 7 hard copy versions. This would mean fewer hard copy books overall but should be acceptable to everyone.

        • Dia

          What’s even worse is several of the book publishers have decided that the libraries have to pay for every 26 copies downloads. This limit on the number of downloads is based on the publisher’s calculations that on the average a library would have to replace a hard copy after it has been loaned 26 times!

          So what is the diff?

          Why skimp on the hard copies over the electronic copies?

          Why is it that the publishers even have to charge for an electronic copy as much as a hard copy? Yes, I understand it is the profit angle,

          Also, the survey run by ArlNow is flawed. Since the readers of ArlNow are electronic savy, of course more would answer in favor of electronic books; however, if the survey was done at the library, the results would probably be skewed the other way. And if one has studied surveys and polls and etc, he/she knows that anyone can use a survey to prove their point.

    • Josh

      Perhaps the county should partner with a maker of these devises to obtain a deep discount. Doing so actually might be a cost effective way to provide electronic books to all.

      • Andrew

        Don’t be mistaken, the makers of these devices still want to make money, and offering a discounted e-reader so that more people can then read e-books from their local library will eat into not only theri device sales but content sales. Not happening.

        • Josh

          You’d be surprised what impact tax writeoffs and good press can do for corporations. While I’m not one to think that the Amazon’s, Apple’s or Sony’s aren’t out to make money, but sometimes doing good and making money can actually fit together. Plus I’m sure there are federal grants to engage just the audiences that can’t afford ebooks.

      • Dia

        Deep discounts only work on the retail side, and they are usually in the form of lost leaders. Amazon is lousey with lost leaders. However, if anyone has read about the financials of the ereaders and books, Amazon is taking a hit for its decisions to push the ebooks.

        Just think, most of the prices of ebooks are still high for what is given… a file. Also, in file form, one cannot resell or trade the ebook legally like one can do with a hard copy of a book. People end up paying more in the long run for the convience (?). Essentially, between Amazon and the publishers, they have eliminated the right of first sale.

        If the right of first sale is lost, then there will be no way for people to buy and sell used goods, They would essentially be “renting” everything, and they would have to go back to the seller to “sell” it back. Just think in terms of a car in the reality of what is happening with the ebooks… the care would HAVE to be returned to the company from where it was bought. What then would people say????

  • Andrew

    While I think the library should explore options for increasing/expanding its digital collection, it should not be at the expense of hard copies. As Frivolous said, not everyone has an e-reader device. Perhaps a small fee to checkout e-books? I’d be willing to pay a couple of dollars to be able to check out an e-book (Netflix model?) as it would still be a savings over buying the e-book.

    • chipotle_addict

      > not everyone has an e-reader device

      But if *I* have an e-reader, and I check out an electronic book instead of a physical book, it means you have that physical book available to read still. While if I didn’t have the e-book alternative, I’d have been forced to take the physical copy leaving you with nothing.

      Even if you don’t have an e-book reader, you can still benefit from the addition of e-books because the physical copies will be in less demand.

      • Dia

        However, some books are not available via ebook because the families and/or estates do not wish to see the books in ebook format.

        Remember the fiasco that Amazon had with 1984??? Somehow, some how Amazon didn’t negotiate for the ebook correctly, and when the publisher found out told Amazon to recall the ebooks. Amazon did refund the money, but how many people had a “1984′ experience of a missing ebook????

        If a hard copy of the book would have been involved, it would have been so much more difficult to reclaim the errant hard copy. Not at all as easy as flipping a switch!!!!

      • Albert Einstein

        What happens when the electrons rebel???

        • Dan

          “What happens when the electrons rebel???”

          Entropy ……..

  • JimPB

    Can a print copy be made from an e-book electronic text?

    I get PDFs of research papers. Fine for a quick reading. But if I want to read with care, I will be “marking up” the paper, and for that, I make a print copy to work with.

    • Dia

      Printing off a copy depends on the licensing, and some ebooks have that option, and others not.

  • novasteve

    I honestly find it preferable to read a real book than on a kindle or a computer. Also people are less likely to steal books, but an electronic device is a target. had my car stolen, they took everything but the library books in the car. Also, what about the donations in the library? That place opposite the checkout. People donate books, then the library sells them for a charity. You aren’t going to be able to do that if ebooks replace real books.

  • HaulinOats

    Collection development is a sticky question for libraries, especially in the case of e-books, as it is possible (likely?) that the library pays for *access* to the resource rather than for ownership of the resource. So, depending on the contract with the e-resource provider, access could go away over time and the library would be left with nothing. See this article for an example of the Kansas State Library negotiating its contract with OverDrive (e-book provider): http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/home/890089-264/kansas_state_librarian_goes_eyeball.html.csp

    That said, I’m not sure it’s right for the library to purchase 10-12 copies of the latest Grisham, Patterson, etc., not only because interest in these titles is fleeting (Shakespeare these things ain’t), but also because it presents a huge storage problem for libraries once interest in the 12 copies of The Pelican Brief has waned. Then you end up throwing the stuff away (http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/10/12/141265066/hard-choices-do-libraries-really-destroy-books?ft=1&f=1008&sc=igg2), which is basically the same thing as losing access to the content.

    Clearly, I don’t have an answer to the question. I don’t know, though, whether boosting e-book collections must come at the expense of print collections (maybe just a little more of the former and a little less of the latter?).

    • Symonen Garfunkul

      yeah, I’ve bought some really bad books at their sales.

  • novasteve

    How can conservatives like me burn digital books?

    • Symonen Garfunkul

      With your cigarettes.

  • novasteve

    Does anyone know what public schools are doing? Do they still do textbooks or assign paper novels to read? I remember they would convert paperbacks to hardcover so they would last longer. I think it would be safer for a kid to lose a book than an ereader. It would be cheaper.

    • Henry

      They do both. Depending on the class you might get a textbook, and for specific assignments they have the paperbacks to be given to kids.

  • Andy

    Given the increasing price of hard copy books and the decreasing price of e-readers, maybe the library should use some of its budget to acquire e-readers that could be loaned out like books. This solves the problem of people who don’t have e-readers. It of course doesn’t solve the problem of people who still prefer hard copy books.

  • OX4

    Let’s consider the Arlington Library mission statement:

    “The Arlington Public Library provides access to information, creates connections among people and promotes reading and culture–for every Arlingtonian and other patrons.”

    Now let’s alter that to match what they are proposing:

    “The Arlington Public Library provides access to information, creates connections among people and promotes reading and culture–for every Arlingtonian and other patrons that have eReaders.”

    • OX4

      Well not what they are proposing, but what some are proposing.

      • 4Arl

        Read the library survey where books and ebooks are lumped together and see if you feel the same way. Books sound old school to the uninformed politician, and few people recognize what is sacrificed in the name of progress. In a literate community like Arlington I hope there will be a meaningful dialogue and understanding of what clicking “I Agree to the terms” really means.

    • Chris (no not that one)

      I do not believe that is at all what they are proposing. Yes, I believe they will buy fewer books to purchase more ebooks, but I bet this means fewer versions of the same book in hard copy, not getting rid of all hard copy books. Why is this controversial? People who want hard copies will still have them and people with ereaders will also have access. We hard copy folks will have less competition for a book while those ereader people fight for the limited licenses.

  • Valerie

    Just want to say that, despite cutbacks in hours, Arlington Library System is one of the best of the County services. They do a great job.

    • novasteve

      I took the Art bus once and the driver was very friendly and enthusiastic. It was almost like a time warp with her calling out the street names.. Metrobus isn’t like that.

  • DL

    I don’t know about the books for e-readers, but the APL’s access/usability to audio books listenable via Macintosh computer (and thereby Mac based iPods) is terrible. My personal help desk (my husband) can’t even figure out how to use them. We still check out many audio books on cd for car trips.

  • JB

    I have read more books, checked out from APL’s eBook collection, since I got a tablet this spring than I had in the preceding 5+ years combined. It’s so easy to acquire the content and have it with me all the time. It has completely changed my reading habits. eBooks are a valuable add-on to the Library’s service, and demand for them will only grow over time. The current rather meager selection desperately needs to be expanded.

  • LPS4DL

    Like everything else, it will be an evolutionary process. Right now, the number of ebook users is small compared to the hardcopy users. Ebook use will grow, but probably not too quickly as many members of the younger generations do not read for recreation. Eventually, the scales will tip toward Ebooks. Libraries will then develop strategies to reduce physical holdings, perhaps only retaining specialized categories that work better in hardcopy form.


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