by Melissa Jeffrey,
Adult Services Librarian,
Arlington Public Library

One of the occupational hazards of being a librarian is having your family ask you what they should read next. My brother takes this to the next level and after every suggestion I make, goes and buys the ebook from the Internet. Of course, I let him know that he could at any time go and check it out at his local library in the mid-cities or even come to Arlington where I work and sign up for a library card so he can access our budding ebook collection. With a sigh and a “know it all” tone, he tells me there are many reasons why he chooses the non-library option. And many of his reasons are the same reasons that were written recently by Librarian in Black in June (“I am a frustrated ebook (NON) user”). Although he is in favor of ebooks, he’s not in favor of ebooks in libraries for the following reasons:

1. Digital Rights Management or Will this work on my device? Most ebook vendors that are available to libraries use some sort of digital rights management. Adobe EPUBs and Adobe PDFs are common, and many devices will read these, including Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Digital Readers. But many people, including my brother, won’t go out and buy devices specifically for reading books. Librarian in Black uses Android, and my brother an iPhone, and they aren’t going to go out and specifically buy a device that will work with library ebooks.

2. Ease of Use. Librarian in Black “wasted about an hour and a half trying to get a book [she] didn’t even like or want onto [her] phone.” Of course a librarian wants to try out their software, so he or she is liable to spend time getting it to work. Is a patron likely to do that? My brother is a big fan of the Kindle app that lets him buy instantly to his phone, pay for it, and it is there to read in about 60 seconds. I even had an experience like this as I, like Librarian in Black, wanted to try and download an audiobook from one of our vendors (the download process is similar for both audiobooks and ebooks). I spent about an hour installing software, re-installing software and gave up. I would say that I am an above average user of computers, not expert, but I felt like I failed.

3. Availability of Titles. This will change in time, but right now there are a couple of hundred ebooks available at my library. All are solid bestsellers and our statistics are encouraging. However, we cannot cater to everyone’s tastes with a small selection, unlike the commercial online stores that carry thousands and thousands of ebooks. For instance, my brother has such esoteric taste, that it is hard enough to find a book he will like, much less one that is available at the library in ebook form!

With these limitations, do I believe we should be venturing into ebooks? Absolutely! There is always a need for libraries to stay relevant to the needs of our community. Members of our community were asking us about ebooks long before we had them available to the public. And those are the backbone of our libraries, the ones that will come to us and tell us what they want. As for my brother? I will still try to get him to come to the library and see what we have to offer, besides my expert advice on choosing books to read.

For more information on ebooks, check out the following:

Reading Alone: How ebooks will kill the smallest libraries

eBooks in Libraries a Thorny Problem, Says Macmillan CEO

Executive Director’s Column by Adam Wright October 2009

Patrons Are Consumers, and Consumers Are Patrons; or, How Publishers Can Learn To Stop Worrying and Love Libraries Again


Original Publication Date: 
July 1, 2010
Legacy Article Number: