Probably the hottest emerging technology discussion right now is ebooks and the sundry related digitization of the printed word.
The article that got me thinking about how far the ebook has come–and far it’s likely to go–is:
Divakar, P. (2012). From Plato to Michael Hart: The Long Journey of E-books. DESIDOC Journal Of Library & Information Technology, 32(2), 109-115.
I am full up to the moon on talk about ebooks. The growing shift to digital formats for a lot of our collection means that databases, online journals, and ebooks are the scary words right now. Don’t get me wrong, I think the discussion is one that needs to happen constantly, often, and frequently, but it’s hard not to get burnt out, especially when it feels like libraries are the Davids to the publishers Goliaths, and I’m not sure that this time a slingshot will work.
There are other folks in library land speaking a lot more eloquently on the topic (Sarah Houghton-Jan and Andy Woodworth come to mind) but I’ve been more focused on a different ebook question hovering on the horizon.
During the last legislative go-round, SB 2120 was signed into law as part of an education budget bill. In its tl;dr form, it’s basically thus: Florida public schools are required to adopt digital-only textbooks by the 2015-16 school year and spend half their textbook budget on digital materials by that same time.
That’s significant, but it’s a school thing, right? Well, no library is an island, etc.
I serve on the Board of Directors for the Education Foundation, which is a non-profit that works in direct support of our county’s school district. (Think Friends of the Library, but for public schools.) I can tell you that SB 2120 is a real, yes-it’s-happening thing, and schools are already trying to figure out how they’ll cope with this unfunded mandate. Plans are in place for pilot programs in the fall, but this change is going to come fast and furious. Irate, even.
This really got me thinking about the role the public library will have to play.
First of all, I think there are serious questions we need to ask ourselves about the future of information access and patron needs. For little Johnny, who gets all his textbooks electronically and carries around an iPad, is he going to want to come into the library for a research project and schlep home 15 lbs of ancient textbooks? Or is he going to want to know what he can check out and load onto his iPad? Is our staff equipped for this sea change? Specifically, what about our Youth Librarians and our Reference/Research Librarians?
My other thought is about the parents. Okay, so their kids are all reading textbooks electronically: they’re reading on desktops, laptops, or portable devices like tablets or ereaders. But what about the parents or caregivers? Don’t you think they’ll have questions about how these devices work? Do we really imagine that the school system, strained as it already is, will have resources in place to train parents and caregivers?
I think it’s far more likely that local public libraries will see a surge in users seeking this sort of information. And again, are we equipped to handle this community need? Are we working with the schools and paying attention to their time table? This is something that’s set to happen all over the state.
What about AR titles? Sunshine State titles? Public libraries already carry these to help supplement school resources. Won’t students–freshly armed with their new gizmos–want to read those titles electronically too?
But how can we supply it? Even for libraries already using services like OverDrive, purchasing is still mostly limited to two of the Big Six: HarperCollins and Random House. We can’t supply titles from publishers like Penguin or Hatchett or Simon & Schuster. That space libraries are in? Between a rock and hard place? It keeps getting smaller. What do libraries look like 20 years from now if they don’t have the power to meet those needs?
Obviously, traditional learning will never completely go away; neither will books. We have to account for tactile, kinesthetic learners and a host of other variables. But that doesn’t change the big picture, which shows an inexorable shift to a digital reading culture that I’m not really sure many of us are thinking about or prepared for. It’s starting in the schools and it’s starting soon–emerging technology changes like this mean critical library changes.