In addition to the work required to bring great library service on a day-to-day basis, people who work in libraries also get to spend some time advocating for literacy, education, access to media, and all sorts of other interesting national issues.
It’s likely no surprise to most people, then, that our largest professional organization, the American Library Association, is currently working hard to have a say in how eBooks are marketed. This recent 6-page report nicely sums up some of the major concerns about eBooks from a library perspective: Will every title be available for libraries to purchase and lend? Will the library be able to keep a digital copy of the book forever, or will it be for a limited time? Will we be able to include access to the book through our catalog, or will we have to link to a separate page?
This is interesting time to be a reader, particularly if you’re a technology enthusiast who has embraced reading books on an eReader, tablet, or smartphone. On one hand, any of these web-connected devices offers unprecedented instantaneous access to a huge number of books.
On the other hand, the devices lend themselves to direct purchasing of titles rather than borrowing from a library or friend to try them out. Out of concern for preserving their profitability (a reasonable concern for any business!), all of the major publishers have put some sort of limit on library access to books. Andrew Albanese of Publisher’s Weekly sums it up nicely in a blog post last week:
“On the publisher side, two of the “Big Six” publishers, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, do not allow libraries to lend their e-books at all; HarperCollins capped lends at 26 in 2011, and Hachette removed its frontlist titles from library catalogs. Random House, which does make its entire catalog available for e-book lending, recently tripled e-book prices. And Penguin suspended its library e-book lending late last year, although at this year’s ALA is announced it is now participating in a limited “e-book pilot” with the New York Public Library to determine whether and how it might resume offering e-books.”
It’s important to remember that the relationship between libraries and publishers in not adversarial; libraries obviously rely on publishers to provide us with new material to stock our shelves (and e-shelves), and publishers have long benefited from libraries’ promotion of reading and literacy to help them develop relationships with readers who are, after all, their customers.
While all of this is being sorted out, all of us readers could do well to step back and take a look at the lush reading environment that has developed alongside eReaders. For one thing, despite the limitations mentioned above, the Library’s E Book selection has surpassed 30,000 titles and is growing quickly. Many popular current titles are available for loan through the OverDrive service.
And the Library is not the only game in town when it comes to free eBooks. Public Domain books, those for which copyright protection has expired, are available for free, legal download from online collections such as the Internet Archive, Google Books, and Project Gutenberg. A lot of these scans are from library collections, so you may even get the experience of seeing a stamp or barcode appear on your iPad screen.
If you haven’t thought about trying out some old (time-tested!) titles available via public domain, here are some starting points, presented in “read-alike” format, that you can load on your phone, Nook, Kindle, iPad, or just about any other electronic reading device.
For fans of Sandra Brown, Mary Higgins Clark, and Michael Connelly — it may be an obvious choice, but did you know that you can read Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes stories for free? Try this collection of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” to see how the original quirky detective puts the clues together.
Oz continues to thrive — in addition to the classic movie, authors and artists continue to adapt it, proving that the mysterious alternative universe is still a great platform for creativity. Find Baum’s original here.
If you like the self-improvement strategies put forth by the likes of Tony Robbins and Rhonda Byrne, you may get a kick out of Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf (aka the Harvard Classics), which promise to provide you with all of the materials you need to be an educated person.
And finally, if you liked Keith Richards’ memoir in all its sordid glory, I think you’ll have to check out the original tell-all drug memoir, Thomas de Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater. Even old Keef might not have been able to keep up with Quincy, not in writing nor self-abuse.
Do you read eBooks? Keep current with industry trends? Have any public domain favorites to share?
-Dan, an eBook advocate who still prefers print.