Free vs. Easy: A librarian contemplates her obsession with her ereader

(Originally published in Off the Shelf, The Arts & Culture Blog of Evanston Public Library 
I like to think of my life as B.K. (Before Kobo), and A.K. (After Kobo). B.K. I was a healthy, happy woman who didn’t mind waiting for a popular book.  Now, A.K., I am shelling out the big bucks for Hunger Games, Freedom, and other best sellers. Since I bought a Kobo last August, the only books I have used in paper format have been cooking and dog training books.  For recreational reading, I simply prefer the convenience of the ebook, and if that means buying a book instead of reading a free paper copy then so be it.

Last October, my husband received an email from our credit card company, wondering if someone had stolen my credit card.  I had maniacally purchased five books at once from the Kobo ebook store and therefore my credit card company presumed my card had been stolen.  Even though I had purchased my ereader with every intention of checking out library ebooks, I found myself quickly rationalizing a $4.99 purchase, then a $7.99 purchase, and even a $14.99 purchase.  I never thought I would pay for so many books, and I wonder if our faithful library users will succumb to the same temptation I did.

Let’s check this out for a moment.  Overdrive, our provider of ebooks has stated in their blog:

To show you what happened in one month, we’ve compared usage from Nov. 26-28 (around US Thanksgiving) to Dec. 25-27 (around Christmas).

eBook checkouts increased a staggering 93%
Visits to ‘Virtual Branch’ websites were up 60%
Pageviews were up nearly 70%

Ebook checkouts increased 93%??! That’s huge considering the website was actually down for three days after Christmas! From those statistics, I’m assuming that the number of devoted ebook users will increase in the next year.  Although they might not be as obsessed as I am, many might soon find themselves purchasing books versus reading hard copies–if the title they want is not available for download.

Developing a good ebook collection for a library sounds simple, but in actuality the process is much more complicated than people realize.  Just like a paper collection, librarians have to build their ebook collection copy by copy.  My Media Mall (Overdrive), the service that most libraries use, allows staff to purchase copies of ebooks that we will then offer for checkout.  Although many ebooks are available for libraries to purchase and for our patrons to suggest (if the book can be purchased through My Media Mall, a librarian will obtain it quickly); some popular titles are not obtainable because of publisher agreements.  That means if patrons want to read Hunger Games or Freedom as an ebook, they cannot.  Patrons could then choose  to wait in the hold queue for a paper copy, but many patrons will do what I have done instead– surf over to an ebook store website, compare prices, buy the book and start reading it.  I have emotionally switched to reading ebooks, and to read a paper copy seems like a compromise.

What I hope is that more readers will continue to use the suggestion form, and our libraries will be able to develop collections that are useful and interesting to our patrons.  Ebook readers are here to stay, and I hope we can offer well-rounded collections, complete with the books that our patrons really want.

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