For the first 7 of my nearly 8 years at PVLD the most common question I got out in the community was "We have the Internet, why do we need libraries?" This past year, the question has changed. It's now one of several variations of "Why do we need libraries if we can get nearly every book we want on our Kindle?"
My response usually touches on the digital divide and the role libraries play in bridging it, the aesthetic value of print, and the fact that libraries also offer e-books and they are free...but I have to confess that my words usually sound weak even to me.
The truth is that, especially as we face the first holiday season in which the price point of decent e-readers is low enough to make them an extremely popular gift, it feels a bit like iwhen I am heading into the ocean for a swim and look up to see a giant wave about to break on top of me.
This time the wave is a technological one, but I suspect that the only safe response is going to be the same - dive as deep as you can, , let the wave tumble you around without fighting it, and hope you can keep your balance once you are able to get your feet on solid ground and your head above water.
The signs of profound change are everywhere, and as articles and blog posts like these make clear, they are disrupting the entire writing/publishing/content distribution ecosystem:
http://www.idealog.com/blog/how-many-christmases-until-we-see-a-whole-new-industry notes that the % reduction in sales at bricks and mortar bookstores is doubling every year -from a 1% decline in '09 to a 2% decline in '10 to an estimated 4-5% decline in '11....and probably 10% or more in '12
http://www.technologyreview.com/business/39210/ identifies the rise of consumer e-books as one of the 5 disruptive technologies of 2011
http://ebookfriendly.com/2011/12/15/3-out-of-top-10-best-selling-kindle-books-of-2011-are-self-published/ points out that 3 of the top 10 bestselling Kindle books are self-published
http://copyrightandtechnology.com/2011/12/04/a-bleak-future-for-public-libraries-and-e-books/ provides insight into just how vulnerable public libraries are to some of the new e-book distribution models arising in the public sector
Just the fact t that these links reflect just a sampling of articles and blog posts that have been published in December alone is scary enough, but when I read the contents all I can think is that libraries are in no way prepared for the wave that is about to hit.
I'm pretty sure that the PVLD staff is not alone in heading into the holiday season knowing that as fast as we've tried to grow it our e-book collection can't meet current demand much less what we expect once all of those Kindle's are unwrapped; Overdrive, our e-book lending system, is not easy to use (especially when contrasted to just downloading an e-book from Amazon); and our staff is struggling to learn the quirks of all of the devices and is not as well-equipped as we would like to help patrons learn how to use them.
We're putting some plans in place to help us cope with the post-holiday wave, and we'll make it through the near term rough surf...but I'm honetly not sure how we, and all public libraries, will adapt to the fundamental changes rocking our world. The one thing I do know, is that getting out of the water is not the answer...
(Thank you California State Library for sharing the above links)