Welcome Susan Gibberman, Head of Reader Services at the Schaumburg Township District Library in Schaumburg, IL. She was also named the 2008 Libarian of the Year by the Romance Writers of America.

Kindles versus Libraries - One librarian's perspective

I appreciate the opportunity given to me by Patricia Rosemoor to blog here today on the subject of Kindles.

Kindles are the newest "thing" in the literary world, but electronic books (ebooks) certainly are not - libraries have been struggling with this for a number of years now. Now you may think that, just because I'm a librarian and the perceived guardian of the printed word - because, after all, the root of the word comes from the Latin libre for "book" - I would be against this new technology. On the contrary - what I have to be is cautious, as all librarians must be when thinking about adding new technology formats to our collections.

Adding new technology to a library collection isn't all that simple. When a new technology is introduced to the consumer market - prices are high until there is enough consumer interest to bring costs down. Libraries can't afford to just change their collections over to the latest product - we often have to stretch our budgets to purchase the formats that our patrons are currently using.

At a recent writers' conference, a number of authors expressed their concerns that Kindles would be taking over the printed book. New formats don't necessarily "kill" another. Consumers buy DVDs but that hasn't affected the number of people attending theatrical releases. Libraries carry those formats that our patrons demand. As the demand for a particular technology increases, so will those collections. Libraries still carry VHS videocassettes for patrons who have not yet upgraded to DVDs (or even to Blu-Rays), but we are limited in that the manufacturers are no longer issuing the new films in VHS. Conversely, as the demand for a particular format decreases, these items will eventually be weeded from our collections. When was the last time you could check out a vinyl album from your library?

When ebooks were first introduced, there were many, many formats. And ebooks designed for one format and one kind of player were not compatible with any of the others. As with most technology, many of those formats quickly died in favor of others. Currently, there are two prominent devices for ebooks on the market: the Kindle and the Sony Reader. Kindles, put out by Amazon, are specifically for downloaded titles that are purchased by the consumer for the device and the cost of the download is often much lower than the printed version. Sony Readers, on the other hand, not only have the capability to download purchased titles, but they are also compatible with some of the downloadable subscriptions available in many libraries across the country.

Will one supercede the other? Only time will tell - many people believed beta videotapes were superior in quality to VHS and we know how that controversy ended.

Perhaps, some day, Kindles (or Sony Readers or another incarnation we've yet to see on the market) replace the printed book that we librarians so dearly love, but I daresay not for many years to come, especially within the library where many of our patrons still enjoy the tactile feeling of a book. The change will come as the more technologically savvy populations become dominant.

From the librarian's perspective, the ebook is just another format that services our patrons' needs - just as owning the audiobook or large type versions of a title service specific library users.

Many libraries already carry ebooks in our collections, but these are often duplicate copies of print titles they currently own. Librarians view the ebook as just another format to compliment their collections and has no greater impact than any other format.