Recently I came across an article unveiling the plans to open the first 100 percent digital public library system in Bexar County, Texas. Since we are well into the technological age, a completely digital public library sounds like an excellent idea. However, I believe that going digital will do more harm than good for public libraries at this time.
According to the American Library Association, “The rapid growth of e-books has stimulated increasing demand for them in libraries, but libraries only have limited access to e-books because of restrictions placed on their use by publishers. Macmillan Publishing, Simon and Schuster and Hachette Book Group refused to sell e-books to libraries. HarperCollins imposed an arbitrary 26 loans per e-book license, and Penguin refused to let libraries lend its new titles altogether.”
The limited availability of ebooks would drastically decrease the diversity of patrons that frequent public libraries. It would become necessary for library patrons to own e-readers or have constant access to a computer or smartphone. Though sales of e-readers and ebooks are increasing, the largest concern for an all digital library would be the limited availability of e-readers that a library could provide.
Also from the ALA, though 76 percent of libraries offer access to e-books, only 39 percent of libraries provide e-readers for check-out by patrons. This number would have to increase to account for the fact that all digital libraries only offer ebooks with no option for paper copies.
Also to consider is that not all of the books and resources are offered online. With the continuous budget cuts, the ALA reports that 57 percent of libraries have reported flat of decreased operating budgets in 2011. The cost of converting all paper materials that are available in a normal public library would be a cost that most libraries would not be able to afford to cover.
The costs of securing 10,000 titles for the Bexar County digital public library, was approximately $250,000. Though the article says that this library is not a replacement of the old libraries but an enhancement, and might be cost effective in the long-run, I do not see it becoming a feasible part of libraries for awhile.
Public libraries are moving forward into the digital age. All public libraries offer computers and internet services which are beneficial to the community. I am all for incorporating technology into the library system. It wouldn’t survive if it stayed offline. However, the idea of libraries going all digital at this point in time will exclude different patrons if their needs do not include using a computer.
At some point in the future, all digital public libraries may be all there are, however we are not there yet.
What are your thoughts? Would you prefer an all digital public library?