It is no secret that a lot of my time the couple of last years has been spent reading, writing, talking, and thinking about eBooks. To the point where I’m a little sick of the whole mess. Really. Sometimes I want to never think or talk about eBooks and libraries again. I’m sure some of you feel the same way. I know there are people out there who think it is a waste of time for librarians to be worried about the ebook issues, or rather content in general. They think that libraries are about community and experience and creation and content doesn’t matter or at least won’t matter in our future. These are people I like, respect and admire so sometimes I have to wonder if they might be right. But I have decided that this is similar to thinking that only teen services matter if you’re a teen librarian or children’s services if you’re a children’s librarian. It is easy to think what you do is the most important thing, that’s human nature. So I get it. Plus like I said I’m sick of eBooks too. It seems like once a month or every other month I swear to never write about them again. Really there are plenty of other smart, capable people addressing this issue and I have plenty of other interests (digital literacy, the digital divide, transliteracy, learning, you get the idea) to keep me busy.
Then something happens to remind me why it matters. Why we have to care about library eBook issues.
This weekend at a social gathering a woman who works as a nurse in a hospital approached me to ask me about eReaders. (People know I’m a librarian so I get approached like this pretty frequently.) This nurse has an elderly patient who is not going to be leaving the hospital any time soon. He likes to read. Buying books is not an option so he uses the library. Someone goes to the public library and picks out books for him regularly. The problem is he is not really happy with the choices they are making for him. There was some discussion about getting him a computer but he’s never used one before so they are now discussing eReaders.
Makes sense right? They know that libraries have eBooks. If he buys an eReader he should be able to check them out. See that? That there – SHOULD be able to check them out. He SHOULD. With just an eReader without a computer he SHOULD be able to get eBooks from the library. The technology is there, the Kindle/OverDrive option proves that it can work without a computer. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t because publishers don’t want it to. Whether it is because of fear or greed or any other reason, technology fails to reach the maximum of its potential because publishers are holding it back. They are denying service to this man, to this portion of the population. It would be one thing if it just wasn’t possible but it IS possible. It SHOULD work. There is no good reason it does not work.
Unfortunately I had to tell her that an ereader probably won’t work. That most library eBooks require that the book be downloaded to a computer and transferred to the ereader. I watched her face fall, she had been so sure this was the answer. As I thought about her disappointment and struggled to explain in the simplest terms possible WHY it wasn’t easier to get an ebook from library I started to feel angry. Angry with publishers and angry with people who think eBooks don’t matter.
I’m not this man’s librarian, I don’t work at his library, but I CARE if he gets to read books that he likes. I CARE if he isn’t able to because someone has placed an artificial limit on technology, whether it is because of fear or greed or whatever. I CARE.
This is why library and eBook issues matter. This is why we have to care. As long as publishers are denying access to people for no good reason we HAVE to keep caring, we have to keep fighting the good fight.