Libraries are in the midst of their own version of the War of the Roses as they try to adapt to their patrons needs and juggle print and digital resources. It is a costly and time consuming endeavor but one whose importance shouldn’t be understated.
On one side is the trusted book. Our minds are imprinted with the book from our earliest stages of learning, remember, “A is for apple, B is for book.” We know what it feels like, what the pages smell like, and the sound the binding makes when you crack it open. Books are ubiquitous now where once they were the privilege of the wealthy. What a sign of wealth it was to have a library of your own. Books can be heavy and it is challenging to store a lot of them.
Digital content covers everything from online magazines, video, music, photos and of course eBooks. You can pile whole libraries of this content into your smartphone, tablet, or reader. The catch is you need a device. Where a book only required your eyes, (or finger), eBooks, as all digital content, need a device to be read from. One you must purchase or lease. Speaking of which, you don’t technically own eBooks. You license them like a piece of software. Publishers have finally come up with a way to thwart libraries lending of books for free. Hence eBooks will always be a more costly solution and present unique challenges for the library patron.
Right now the smart money is on eBooks. New technology always replaces old. Just don’t tell that to the vinyl record. So books offer simplicity and zero barriers for entry. eBooks offer convenience and portability, so long as your device holds up. So you can see, declaring one over the other is not so easy. Going all digital does not solve the problems of managing a modern library’s collection, nor does clinging to print books.
Currently libraries lease most of their digital resources as a stop gap to give their patrons what they want. This works for now but really does not present much of a future for the library. As prices for this content rise and more of their budgets get syphoned off libraries will find little to nothing to show for all the money they invested in their digital collections, to say nothing of products that no longer get support or disappear from the marketplace. For libraries to have any future they must secure digital content that they own. After all you cannot build a collection of purchase orders and license agreements.