eBooks and eBook readers are becoming increasingly popular, for many reasons. They are small and portable and can hold a very large amount of books on a single reader, meaning that a person could conceivably carry every single book that they own around with them in a small shoulder bag.
These books are also searchable, rapidly so when searching physical texts would take many hours potentially, or longer.
There are, drawbacks when considering a traditional library, with physical books. In part, the fact that they have only one or two copies of a text means that only a limited number of people can view it at one time, or else that they have to queue-wait their turn to be able to view a text.
When the library or the text in question is academic, then this can negatively impact their education or their ability to write papers.
A university in Texas has implemented changes that might be the way forward. They have gone all electronic, doing away with traditional paper texts. Instead this library resembles an airport lounge, with comfortable arm chairs lining the walls, all with a small desk attached to them.
An electronic library such as this would simply loan the eBook reader to the visitor when they came through the door. They would then download the eBook that they want to read onto the reader, take it to one of the armchairs and sit and read comfortably. T
here would also be scope for them to allow the eBook reader to be taken away-and since the users would presumably be students at the university, the risk of loss (without the student replacing them) would be minimal. This makes eBooks an attractive option for a university library as it reduces the size of the room needed to house a library.
What would this mean for other, non-academic libraries though? One of the problems with eBooks is that generally, you are not allowed to loan them to other people.
Some publishers are changing that, but still only allowing you to loan a book for two weeks, and once only for any book that you own. You buy the book to read, for only you, and that differs hugely to how a traditional library would operate.
A normal library would hold many books, and most of those would be novels that are read many times, and other works of fiction rather than academic texts.
The licenses for these books when delivered as eBooks are very different to academic texts, and prevent the loaning of them to multiple users.
This would need to change-to allow libraries to loan the books. Were a library to wish to convert, there would also be the risk of the loss of the devices. Each device carries considerable cost, and replacement on a regular basis could bankrupt a library.
Will the popularity of the eBook make the library obsolete because of these obstacles? Only time will tell whether or not changes to eBook licenses will allow libraries to benefit from them.