Friday, September 3, 2010

The Future of the Library

Recently, Will Gompertz, author of the BBC blog Gomp/arts, wrote a piece on the future of the local library. It's an interesting piece that discusses the range of borrowing possibilities from grocery store checkout lines to the local pub. The central crux of Gompertz's post is, "How do we keep the lending library relevant?"

The answer, perhaps, lies in digital lending. Okay, maybe it seems daft, but here's my thought: There are e-readers out to wazoo, the iPad, the iPod, [not-so]smartphones, and several dozen other ways to read something electronically. Many of these devices are equipped with wifi capability or attached to a 3G wireless network. (In the instance of the Amazon Kindle, the Sprint wifi doesn't even cost anything--as opposed to the AT&T package offered with Apple's iPad, aka the iPod that toked up on technology growth hormone.)

The idea sparked after I was checking out textbooks for a course I'm teaching and noticed that Barnes&Noble now offers a "rent" option on textbooks. For a fee that's less than the cost of a used book, you can borrow a book for the duration of the term and then return it to the store. Then I got my NetFlix in the mail, and...

Well, here's the story: digital lending should be perfectly possible. A "NetFlix" for books would no doubt be too costly, unless rented items were shipped media mail, but the variety of e-readers should, in theory, offer readers great possibilities. Think of it like The New York Times subscription you can get for your Kindle, but instead for your local library. You pay the library an acceptable amount, and you get a one-year subscription (perhaps through Amazon or B&N or Apple, depending upon your library's e-reader preference) to electronic rentals. You can download books that you've "rented," then "send" them back.

I'm no tech whiz, and I'm aware that the idea is fraught with difficulties--precisely because of the broad scope of the e-reader market and other compatibility issues--but it may allow the library to continue bringing in some monetary resources while still protecting knowledge. It pays libraries, who in turn pay our librarians, who in turn are making sure that libraries continue to function and collect knowledge, entertainment, and all that. Something to think about.


Post a Comment