Ebooks are driving momentous changes. In Vancouver, librarians are inviting the public to help reinvent their mission.
There are certain things, good and bad, that ebooks can’t offer. Old bookmarks, penciled annotations and chocolate smudges between the pages… the tactile human touches that make die-hard proponents of print swear they’ll never make the switch.
But those traditionalists are becoming the minority of library borrowers, as the relative convenience of ebooks — downloadable from the comfort of one’s home — appeals to more and more library users. According to recently-released stats from the Vancouver Public Library, the lending and borrowing of electronic content, and in particular ebooks, is exploding.
At VPL, ebook downloads have increased almost tenfold year-on-year, from 3,718 in 2010 to 35,671 in 2011. On top of that, the library estimates that if the current growth rate of ebook borrowing continues, it will take less than five years for ebooks to dominate circulation.
Of course, the explosion of ebooks isn’t news to the publishing industry, which is still adjusting to the digital shift. Scott McIntyre, the publisher and chairman of Vancouver-based D&M Publishing, recently shared his take with The Tyee that sooner rather than later, at least in the publishing world, ebooks “will conquer all.” And there’s significant evidence to support McIntyre’s prophecy. Mid 2010, Amazon.com reported that sales for its Kindle reader outstripped hardcover sales, and by January 2011, Kindle books surpassed paperback sales as well.
Yet while the story of publishers reeling over the digital surge has been told, how are libraries affected by the shift? As VPL’s director of planning and development Daphne Wood points out, there are a number of issues the library faces with the takeover. Issues like how ebooks are licensed to libraries, concerns about access to e-readers (and a potential new “digital divide”), and how to build modern collections that appease everyone, are top of mind for many librarians.