Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Future of Libraries

With the increasing availability of electronic books (eBooks) and the vast amount of digital reference materials available to the learner many people have questioned the role of the library in the future.  Most information desired can be found online from one's home computer.  New reference books and fiction / nonfiction books can be bought online, or borrowed, and read on one's own preferred digital media device.  So one would ask, or conclude, that the future of the library is to expand access to one's own home computer, laptop computer, or digital device.  As I see it, a library membership in the future will provide the learner access to research publications and reference material, books, and magazine subscriptions, that can be viewed and checked out digitally.  Thus, the library will serve as a large database rather than a warehouse of books that can be read in place and taken home for two weeks at a time.

Libraries, and bookstores, are in a time of drastic change.  In transitioning with current advances in technology, libraries and bookstores are only beginning to see the forced changes that the recording, movie, and newspaper industries have already had to deal with.  Ebooks will continue to gain in population requiring libraries and bookstores to change their offerings.  Hardback and paperback books will continue to decline while ebooks will continue to be in demand.  In following this trend, libraries and bookstores will have to increase their digital offerings while reducing their hardback and paperback offerings.  One example of this can be found in HaperCollins recent response to their eBook policy for libraries.  HarperCollins' President of Sales, Josh Marwell, posted an open letter to Librarians addressing the recent policy change.  In Marwell's (2011) opening statement he indicated that they would continue to support those who promote ebook sales: "all who are actively engaged in buying, selling, lending, promotion, writing and publish in books" (p. 1). Unfortunately, libraries are low on this list.  This example is only one sign indicating that libraries are being forced to change.

Regarding HarperCollins recent policy changes for libraries: from a business standpoint, and not from a community service standpoint, I feel that the publisher has the right to regulate the availability of ebook sales to meet market demands.  Provided below are a few reasons to support my decision.

1) Ebook sales have increased without the assistance of libraries supporting specific titles:

  • The growing number of sales of ebooks continue to increase as buyers prefer the ease of the digital format and the cheaper prices available for ebooks.  Currently, Amazon sells 60 to 70% of all e-books in America, with approximately 90% e-books sales in Great Britain (Clayton, 2011).  If the role of the library is to promote reading - Amazon, Barnes and Noble, along with a number of other online providers of digital e-books, are providing this service to the online community replacing the traditional role of the library.
  • The ebook format has also opened up new opportunities for self-published authors.  Self-published authors have grown to nearly 133,036 in 2010 from 51,237 in 2006, nearly tripling in size (Trachtenberg, 2011).  Penguin is offering books priced from .99 cents up to $2.99, with some books priced above the $2.99 price (Trachtenberg, 2011).
  • The main drivers in the ebook industry are Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, and Google.  The ebook publishers have to cater to these four key players at the expense of the public libraries.

2) Increasing ebook sales over traditional hardcover and paperback will reduce operating costs for book stores and libraries:

  • The decreased costs associated with ebooks will help reduce costs for book stores and libraries.  As ebooks gain even further popularity, shelf space required to store hardback and paperback books will be decreased, furthering a reduction in overhead costs for book stores and libraries.  
  • Trachtenberg (2011) indicated that most readers are switching to cheaper digital books.  One example provided by Trachteberg (2011) is that Amazon customers currently buy more Kindle titles than the traditional hardcover and paperback copies.  Trachteberg (2011) highlighted the impact that ebooks have had on print runs, print runs have decreased by 25% compared to one year earlier. At this rate, shelf space in book stores and libraries will be reduced, requiring a larger digital selection of titles.  This is evident by publishers reducing their warehouse capacity, such as HarperCollins Publishers Inc. who is currently closing two of its four warehouses (Trachteberg, 2011).  Another publisher, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc., an academic and reference publisher who also serve libraries, has no plans to build new warehouses since their digital sales for this year have tripled (Trachteberg, 2011).

3) Libraries will have to begin working directly with delivery agents rather than publishers:

  • In September, Amazon begin allowing library users to borrow ebooks from their home computer (Olshan, 2011).  By providing ebook downloads the New York Public Library had their registrations double (Olshan, 2011).  This new offering has allowed the New York Public Library to continue its mission in this time of change.  According to Anthony Marx, the president of the New York Public Library, this move "would be a natural extension of the library's mission to get people to read more and think more" (Olshan, 2011, p. 1). 


Clayton, N. (2011, Sept. 12). Digitization bring shrinking case for E-Books. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Marwell, J. (2011, March 01). Open letter to librarians [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Olshan, J. (2011, Oct. 6). E-Readers on checkout. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Trachtenberg, J. A. (2011, Aug. 29). New economics rewrite book business. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

Trachtenberg, J. A. (2011, Nov. 16). Self-publishers get help: Penguin starts service as big houses see digital's potential. The Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved from
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