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The Ebook Bait and Switch

A kind reader commented on my last post comparing library ebook selection to small town diner lattes that although I have previously argued that popular ebooks libraries didn’t matter, I was now complaining about the lack of selection. Or, as the comment asked, “Now you’re complaining about the lack of selection?”

Why yes, yes I am.

Another commenter helpfully pointed out all the reasons why popular ebooks collections at libraries are so small. I know about those pesky publishers and the grief they’re causing libraries these days. They’re terribly frightened of libraries, which is amusing when you think about how harmless libraries and librarians are. You have to be a wee, timrous, cowering beastie indeed to be afraid of libraries.

I also know there’s been a lot of publicity pointing out how publishers are either avoiding selling ebooks to libraries or making the deals so bad that it’s not worth it, so that library patrons can’t get any of the books they might want.

However, I also see articles like this one: Libraries Offer Free Resources to All, claiming “The library has a fast-growing collection of eBooks, including many best-sellers.”

Well, it does and it doesn’t, depending on how you look at it. There’s a fast growing collection of ebooks, but not many bestsellers, and the bestsellers are rarely available without a long wait. Libraries can’t have it both ways.

That’s probably the reason why a recent survey found that 62% of respondents, including 58% of library card holders, didn’t know if their public libraries provided ebooks.  Presumably, the other 42% of library card holders knew that their library did provide ebooks if you’re willing to wait months for something you might actually want to read.

In the last post, I was coming to my library from the perspective of a library patron. I work in a library, and I can get all the print books I want either from the library or through interlibrary loan.

But what if I was just a normal patron who had just procured an ebook reader and wanted to read my romance novels and mommy porn on it? I would do exactly what I did. I would go to the library website and try to find something I wanted to read and probably fail.

And then do you know what I’d do? Or rather, what I wouldn’t do? Go back to the library expecting ebooks.

The library promotions that say “come get your ebooks here” are doing a disservice to library patrons.

I was also informed that there are lots of free ebooks to download. Absolutely. I can download those without even going to the library, though. There are several sites that make it easy to download out-of-copyright books, much easier than the clunky library download apparatus. So even if I wanted those books, why would I go to the library?

And why would I want those books? Quit reading those bestsellers and read a literary classic, someone might say. But I’ve read those literary classics. I’ve been reading books for decades. If it’s a classic that I would even consider reading, I’ve probably read it, sometimes more than once. I want something I haven’t read before.

Fortunately, I have no aversion to paper the way some folks have, and I’m content reading paper books. I still prefer buying paper books, because then when I’m done with them I can choose to keep them, lend them, sell them, or donate them to a library, which I would love to be able to do with ebooks.

Regardless, there’s a tightrope libraries are walking right now. They’re claiming simultaneously that publishers won’t sell them ebooks and that libraries are the place to go for free ebooks.

Something has to give, and it might be better to give up the library ebook boondoggle than the good will of patrons who come expecting to get an ebook to read and find they’re the victims of a bait and switch.

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