Friday, February 4, 2011

Will the Internet and ebooks kill our libraries?

Amazon has reported that now its sales of ebooks exceed sales of printed books across all categories.

This is a major endorsement of the ebook and a sure sign that its future is assured, despite the fact that so many of us who have grown up with inky stains on dead tree flesh still love the feel and "presence" of the printed volumes.

As a low-cost, energy-efficient form of publication, the ebook is hard to fault and now that a growing variety of readers are available from little more than $100, I suspect that even those most resistant to change will eventually embrace the benefits.

However, there is one area where the ebook may fall short and leave us all wanting.

Take a trip into any town or city and somewhere within its precincts you will find a large building, filled with thousands of books. It is of course, the public library.

For a century or more, the public library has been a free repository of knowledge and entertainment in written form, open to all and containing an amazing array of different titles.

However, the future of the library must now be a little uncertain, in an age where the internet has replaced it as "the" repository of knowledge and where digital rights management (DRM) has effectively destroyed the ability to "lend" ebooks in the same way we currently lend printed versions.

Although some ebook DRM systems allow books to be lent, quite often there are very severe restrictions on that lending -- both in terms of the duration of the loan and the number of times a title can be loaned. In fact, some formats don't allow lending at all -- they consider it a prohibited act within the provisions of the copyright laws.

So... where to from here for lending libraries?

Well they will still exist but I'm thinking that within the next decade or so, they will no longer be the imposing structures that house tens of thousands of printed volumes.

As the ebook continues to grow in popularity and the internet provides us with access to almost all the information and entertainment we could ever dream of, libraries as we know them will fade away -- replaced by something rather different.

Exactly what that "something different" will be -- I'm not sure, and I don't think anyone else knows either.

Do you?

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