Getting a library ebook you actually want to read is a lot like getting a latte from a small town diner. You end up with something that from the outside might seem passable, but is far from the real thing. I had experience with both recently and was very disappointed.
After ALA was over, I wanted a vacation, so I took a little road trip to spend a weekend with a friend at a bed & breakfast. Since I wanted to take a break from any reading that might be considered professional or necessary, I decided to try to find some ebooks to read from my local public library.
There are lots of popular print books at my academic library, but we don’t have a lot of ebooks, and I was trying to travel lightly.
I managed to make it to the library website and find the ebook collection easily enough. Then again, I’m a trained librarian. The navigation was simple enough, and I could browse genres, do some searching, etc. So far, so good.
And then, depression set in. There were technically ebooks available through my library, although the vast majority of them were checked out. With print books, it doesn’t matter much, because the selection is so large that there’s usually something to read.
Not so with the ebooks. Those that weren’t checked out weren’t checked out for a reason. They looked really bad, the absolute dregs of whatever genre I might want, from mystery to history. Any author I’d ever heard of or read about was either absent or unavailable.
Eventually I found two ebooks that didn’t look absolutely awful, a recent mystery novel by someone I’d never heard of and an entry in the genre of “The History of a Single Object that I’m Going to Pretend is of Earth-Shattering Importance.” The downloading wasn’t too difficult, though I could forget reading it on my Kindle.
I go on my road trip and I’m passing through a small town and I really need some coffee and a snack. Two more hours to the bed & breakfast. The choice was a McDonalds or a local diner, so not much of a choice. I’d sooner get mugged than eat anything from McDonalds, so the diner it was. It’s hard to screw up scrambled eggs and toast, right?
Wrong. The eggs were greasy and the toast was soggy. But at least they served lattes. I was really craving a latte then, and the driving fatigue dampened the warning signs.
Then I decided to read with my coffee. So there I am, my tablet propped up displaying my mediocre mystery that I got because it was the only one available, drinking my thin, insipid latte because it was the only one available, all the while thinking that this situation, in a word, sucks.
But I learned an important lesson about the illusion of choice. I should have just gotten some black coffee and wolfed it down for the caffeine, but I thought I had a choice. Only it was a choice between a bad thing or no thing at all. Or the choice between something barely tolerable of its kind and something awful of its kind.
The same goes for library ebooks. Bad selections, long waits, little real choice. I should have spent a few bucks for a Kindle book I might actually want to read than put up with a bad choice that happened to be free.
Maybe that situation will change, and maybe at other libraries it’s a different story. But if my experience is common, library ebooks are a mug’s game.