Libraries of the Very-Near Future
About 6 months ago, I read a comment on a popular industry blog by someone who stated she was a librarian. I saved her comment and I’m re-posting it here. This is what she said:
As a librarian (or bookstore buyer) with extremely limited staff and resources, how do we choose? We don’t yet have any real volume of ebooks being reviewed by known review sources. In my library, we do try to grab books once they clearly rise to the top of the heap but that leaves an awful lot of perfectly respectable books flying under our radar.
I, for one, WANT to represent independent authors in my collection. I want to bring new voices to readers. I want to provide access via print, ebook, audiobook, cuneiform manuscript, or any other format anyone wants. But it’s hard to make it happen in the current model.
So, has anything changed in the last half year?
I have to believe that the short answer is no. Progress, if any, has been slow at best.
Many larger libraries have begun to institute a model similar to Douglas County where they’re able to purchase and own content from the small number of publishers and outlets that will deal direct. Others have been fortunate to join multi-member consortium groups that have similar systems in place and are able to trickle down benefits to their members. These too are finding success dealing with small publishing houses, even going so far as connecting with Smashwords for self-published content.
But when it comes to titles that readers actually want, very little has changed. Case in point, libraries couldn’t offer Catching Fire over the holidays. And that’s a title everyone knows about.
For a better representation of the current marketplace for libraries, let’s take a look at the most recent report that Douglas County released showing the availability (or lack thereof – especially on the ebook side) of the Top 20 books at Amazon.
What you see is that almost half of the Top 20 books aren’t available to libraries in digital form. Of those that are, only Veronica Roth’s Divergent Series books are offered at a price remotely comparable to the consumer market. A couple titles are over 10X the price that a reader can pay to purchase the book from Amazon.
So now that libraries are building out and gaining access to systems that could potentially allow them to own content, where can they turn to find that content? And even if those ebooks were readily available, how would you ever begin to cull your way through the hundreds of thousands of indie and small house titles out there?
Those are the questions we are attempting to answer at eBooksAreForever.
What technologies can do for the industry as a whole
Right now, we’re talking with a group of authors that represent a large chunk of what readers consider to be bestsellers. At eBooksAreForever, we believe in simplicity, so our solution to the problem of econtent availability is one that revolves around that very idea.
Our plan is to lean on available technologies to connect authors to libraries in a way that has never been done before. We are acquiring the best content, curated for what library patrons want, and delivering it in the easiest way possible.
Simplify the ebook acquisition process for libraries and connect them to great content – that is our goal.
A common question we’ve got so far is: What makes what you’re doing different from that of current distributors like Overdrive and 3M?
Even if platforms like Overdrive and Axis 360 and 3M are solving some issues in the acquisition process for libraries (which they are), they still fail to account for the fact that they’re solving problems for a system that will no longer exist in its current form if the marketplace continues to evolve (which it will).
We’re approaching the same problems, but from a much different angle. We believe in empowering the library. We believe in allowing them the freedom to offer the best solutions possible to their patrons. So we’re attempting to give libraries a way forward – a new way of working with authors and publishers.
Because the current publisher-vendor-library relationship needs to change. Vendors currently control the user’s experience – they control most everything in the current system. The way in which these vendor sites work keeps patrons from easily engaging and interacting with the library itself, pushing them off the library’s website and on to theirs, driving a wedge between the library and the patron.
No matter how you look at it, this is not ideal for the library. (I’ll leave the discussion about being at the vendor’s, and publisher’s, whim and not owning content for another day.)
But technology and a new relationship paradigm can be accomplished. I believe it MUST be accomplished if libraries are to thrive in this new and evolving landscape.
The way forward and what we envision
At eBooksAreForever, we have a clear vision of what we see for libraries of the not-so-distant future. Most likely, budgets will continue to decrease, so we must find ways to do more with less. Here’s what we’re betting on:
Real evolutions (possibly revolutions) in the way technologies are used by libraries will bring the disjointed and fragmented branches of the current system together to form increasingly solid standards.
In building the beta version of the eBooksAreForever platform, we quickly came to realize that whoever is able to step in and find a way to unite the seemingly endless versions of what being a modern “library” means, will be positioned extremely well to offer libraries an unprecedented amount of purchasing power.
Between the multiple ILS systems, cataloging systems, and numerous vendors (all with different prices and processes), it is all but impossible to move towards a more standardized way of operating. For libraries, this is very bad. But for publishers and vendors and software developers, it’s business as usual – and business is pretty damn good. (See: Overdrive has annual revenues in excess of $100 million and Simon & Schuster profits rise 32% in 2013 for just two quick examples.)
Moving forward, we see libraries as discovery and marketing venues, both of which are worthy of much greater attention. For instance, I live in San Antonio and only have to look as far as the local all-digital Bibliotech for what the future of libraries might resemble as a blend of discovery mixed with the community hub for information access.
We also want to stay flexible in our pursuit of better solutions for libraries. Readers might demand something much different than what we are fighting for. Libraries may tell us they want us to shift and evolve into something we haven’t yet imagined. We promise, from day one, to stay dedicated to this cause; we aren’t going anywhere.
Which is why we leave this site – and its future – up to all of you.
If you want to blog for us, we’d love to have you. Give us your opinion. Write up a feature on your library; tell us what you’re doing different than everyone else. Have you found an obscure new book that your readers are in love with and you think other librarians should know about it? Then post about it here. Post about things in your county or state. Post about what you’d really like to see become a standard in the library community.
Soon we’ll have a fully interactive forums section, but for now, we’re leaving the blog on this site open to any and all opinions. If you have a library account, you can submit a blog post whenever you like.
So I say to that original commenter, if she finds her way here: This is how you get what you want. This is what it looks like to choose.