A lot of attention has been focused on the way bookstores and publishing companies are managing the e-book revolution. The role of libraries has often been overlooked. But when HarperCollins Publishing Co. recently announced a new policy that would limit the number of times its e-books can be borrowed, it sparked a larger conversation about the future of libraries in the digital age.
These days, you don’t have to go anywhere near a library to check out an e-book. You can download one to your digital device in a matter of seconds. And there’s no more pesky overdue notices — the e-book simply disappears from your device when your time is up.
“The fact is that with a digital item, if you give it to somebody you still have it. It doesn’t have to come back,” says Eli Neiburger, the director for IT and production at the Ann Arbor District library in Michigan.
E-books, says Neiburger, are really digital files, but libraries and publishers are still trying to deal with them as if they are just like print books. In other words, they’re trying to do business the way they have always done business
“Part of the models we’ve seen so far are still trying to force 20th century business models onto digital content,” Neiburger says. “And any digital native says, ‘You mean I have to wait to download an e-book? What sense does that make?’ And they’re off to the Kindle store to spend $3.99 or $4.99 or $9.99 to get that same book.”