The PLA Blog | Official Blog of the Public Library Association

An eBook is not a Book

I’d like to explain why I don’t think eReader lending (Nook, Kindle, Sony, any reader at all) is a good plan for public libraries.  It’s not that lending eReaders is a *bad* thing at all: if someone gifts your library a garbage bag full of Nooks, what the heck, please use them!  Instead I’d argue that libraries can have some foresight and spend their dollars on other programs, equipment, and skillset development for both staff and the people in their communities that will far transcend the fleeting, temporary lifespan of the next version of the Kindle, Nook, or whatever other piece of consumer electronic garbage is currently fashionable.

A few facts:
An eBook is not a book.
A jpg is not a photograph.
An mp3 is not a vinyl record.

Digital media is fundamentally different from a piece of media bound by a physical or mechanical container.  The reason that digital rights management, the Harper-Collins 26 checkouts solution, or the Stop Online Piracy Act exist is because we insist on trying to find ways to make digital media fit within the same constraints we’ve become accustomed to for mechanical-era media.  We do this in order to preserve existing business models and the complex ecosystems that artists, publishers, and consumers have depended on so that everyone can make a fair living.  The problem is that successfully mapping the basic constraints of physical media onto digital media is no wiser an enterprise than making gold from graphite; it is futile and it impedes progress toward the evolution of a new, practical ecosystem for artists, publishers, and end users.  For that reason, I’m vehemently opposed to DRM, the 26 circ idea, and SOPA, all of which are similarly flawed solutions to the same problem differing only in scale and scope.

An eBook has more in common with a website or an app than it does a book.  Similarly, the nature of a text-only eBook bears more in common with a collection of digital images or a playlist of digital songs than it does a book.  Once media is digital, it has a different constraints and affordances than it did when it was in a physical container. There’s a closer constraint/affordance index shared between digital text, images, sound, and moving images than there is between any of those and their physical or mechanical counterpart.

Step away from that copy of John Grisham’s The Litigators that you are reading on your Kindle, and consider the true affordances and constraints of that file.  Forget the artificial constraints in place because of the system; leave behind intentional constraints applied by the author of the work, and think of nothing but the potential.  That “eBook” could be almost instantly copied and those copies could be transmitted across the globe at no cost.  That “eBook” need not remain a static work, it could be concurrently edited by many authors or other computers.  The contents of that “eBook” could be networked and intertwined with all other “eBook” content across the web; contextual metadata about chunks of that “eBook” content could be reused and repurposed to make other works.  Take a quick look at Small Demons as an example if that last sentence threw you for a loop.  I’d suggest that because the properties of digital media mean this can happen then eventually it will happen.  Everything eventually reaches it potential, in spite of artificial constraints.

So, when I look at the Nook, the Kindle, or even some of the eReaders on the market today that aren’t associated with their own content sales and distribution network, all I see are tools for lazy consumption that don’t take advantage of what “eBooks” can and eventually will be.  That’s A-OK, we all like to read, watch and listen passively to media and traditionally those are the activities public libraries have supported.  Still, I think the ROI is questionable at best for a library purchasing these gadgets, and I don’t think such a purchase is a long-term solution that accounts for the evolution of digital media packages and the myriad ways the public might be able to interact with digital media other than simply consuming it.  I’ve written a lot about my belief that a bright future for public libraries would be a robust commitment to community content production, rather than just the content consumption we support now.

In this transitional time, public libraries should aim for the future and invest in toolsets and programming that help their communities produce and participate in new digital works, not simply consume them.  To make something is to understand something.  If you build a radio from parts in your garage, you’ll have a very different relationship with every radio you listen to from that day on. A tomato you grow in your garden will always taste better than the tomato you bought from the grocery store, and you’ll develop a deep understanding of what that tomato is after you’ve nurtured its growth for months.  Every time you have tomatoes at a restaurant after you’ve grown your own you’ll have a different understanding of tomatoes; what they are, where they came from, and the potential they hold.  To help our communities taste better tomatoes, public libraries need media labs, hacker spaces, coworking spaces, expert staff, and a long term investment in technologies supporting community creativity.

This is all one man’s opinion with nothing but the best of intentions.  Feedback and criticism is accepted with a smile.

Comment Pages

There are 37 Comments to "An eBook is not a Book"

  • I totally agree. In fact the biggest problem for libraries are the librarians (poorly prepared).

  • Linda W. Braun says:

    Thoughtful post Nate. I wrote an article for VOYA a few months ago that also questions the terminology we are using for ebooks. I have yet to figure out what the right words are. Enhanced e-books makes me crazy because it still makes people think container when we need to focus on content. Apps is the term I tend to use, and apps is very much where we are headed, but that isn’t descriptive enough. The VOYA column is available: http://bit.ly/xWzAtr

  • Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more. My favorite scenario for libraries going forward is the library as publisher, which I’ve written about in my most recent post.

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  • Your title is plenty provocative (and I’ve seen it provoke an argument on Twitter) but not, I think, in a very helpful way. Books, as objects, have long been conflated with books, as texts. As far as content goes, the ePub version of “Moby Dick” has all the same words as the printed version of “Moby Dick.” In that sense, an ebook is a book. As objects, an ebook’s XML code is entirely different from the sewn-together signatures of a hardback. In that sense, of course an ebook is not a book. Not knowing which meaning of “book” you’re using seems bound to start arguments about a non-issue.

    Getting past that initial fence, I disagree with the idea of libraries sitting out this round of e-readers. I absolutely agree that current ebooks and e-readers are deeply flawed in all sorts of ways, including the ways they try to continue the conventions of the printed book (like turning virtual pages). Ebooks as isolated non-networked documents don’t make sense either. But I don’t think libraries (or anyone, for that matter) get their voices heard on these issues by ignoring these products until they get better.

    It reminds me of my undergrad Business Writing course. If you’re writing a complaint letter to a business, don’t tell them that you’ll never buy from them again. You’ve given them no reason to try to work things out with you. Say that you want to continue to do business with them but need to work out issues X and Y. It’s an obvious rhetorical move, but if it’s honest it can keep the ball rolling. Libraries need to stay engaged with device and document creators so that we get heard. “We only bought X many devices because they don’t meet 1-2-3-4 requirements. Address those shortcomings and we would be interested in buying more.”

    “In this transitional time, public libraries should aim for the future and invest in toolsets and programming that help their communities produce and participate in new digital works, not simply consume them.” I agree, but who is already doing this? Who has the resources to start doing this now? Small Demons looks really cool, and I’m eager to try to contribute, but SD has deals with publishers to allow it to quote passages and use book content. And further, all that great index information is theirs. It’s not published under a CC or other open license. If they go under or get bought out, their data belongs to someone else, which should raise the spector of Gracenote.

    Libraries get to exert influence in these fields by participating in them. I agree that the long-term ROI for e-readers may be low, but we can’t skip 10 steps ahead to the ideal “Everything eventually reaches it potential” moment. I think it will take longer and longer to reach that potential if we don’t participate in all of the intermediate steps, even though that’s painfully slow and expensive.

  • Nate Hill says:

    Nathan, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    I’m not suggesting libraries sit out this round of eBooks… I just don’t see any way to circulate eReaders that scales beyond having a few to play with. Sure, buy a couple of devices to circulate at your library if you want. I’m always in support of trying new things out. It’ll be great for staff education and for tricking people in your community into thinking you can actually support such services well, which you can’t.

    But I’m sorry, yes we *can* and should skip 10 steps ahead and plan for the ‘everything reaches it’s potential’ moment . Stop planning for right now and start thinking ahead and planning for 5 years from now.

    Regarding your response of “I agree, but who is already doing this? Who has the resources to start doing this now?” to the idea of supporting creative endeavors in libraries rather than only consumptive ones I’d say: *not good enough*. Indeed, nobody has really made a huge long-term commitment like I’m suggesting and I think that is sad and a mistake. I do believe that this is one really solid future for public libraries that people would tax themselves to support, and I’m not sure libraries as they exist today are something people will continue to feel compelled to tax themselves to support. If I can elaborate in any way for you how I believe a production/participation focused library is a better model for the 21st century than our 20th century consumption focused institutions, I will be happy to.

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  • I agree that current e-readers aren’t ready for wide-scale circulation. They’re worth a test bed, though. We need direct experience to make the case (to device manufacturers and the public) that they aren’t ready for adoption. That doesn’t seem like trickery to me. How else are we going to learn the why of what we can and can’t support?

    I think you can plan for the next step, or maybe two steps ahead, and not just for the current square you’re on. I don’t think you can plan ten steps ahead when it comes to technology because there are too many game-changers that can’t be predicted. Apple announces a smartphone with a touch-screen and no hardware keyboard, and the requirements for websites starts to change (Flash, hover-over, etc.). If in 2007 your organization’s 5-year plan included a dependance on Flash, you’d be hurting now.

    That #fail scenario plays out when we bet on specific (existing) technologies. I don’t think that’s the case when we start to lay out the groundwork/vision/tools. We want a networked “eBook”? We need to work on it and/or partner with groups or communities who are more familiar with the tools required to take on that kind of project.

    Getting buy-in from the open source community, to pick an example, isn’t likely to happen if we don’t really have a strong use case for projects we advocate. What’s the payoff of a networked ebook? Does it connect to other books or something else, like Wikipedia? Are similar tools already in place somewhere else? What obstacles have they faced? What would it take (money, work-hours, knowledge) to overcome those obstacles? Actually I wouldn’t expect much support from the library community if a project doesn’t have its act together.

    Maybe a different angle of questioning is better: What creative endeavors are libraries working on that need support? What projects could help us build toward the kind of long-term commitments we’d like to see if those projects were successful? What happens next?

  • Nate Hill says:

    @nathan I think the thing I struggle most with when I consider circulating eReaders is the math. When I was talking to @pcsweeney earlier on Twitter I said:

    “if u load an ebook reader with 100 ebook titles, you give 1 person 100 books at a time. if u buy 100 books u give 100 people 100 books.”

    My problem isn’t so much with the bells & whistles technology of eReaders or the evolving multimedia files we call eBooks, its a matter of the of nature digital content itself. That’s why I was doing my best to explain that in the post. Connecting information items, containers, and users is a totally different ballgame when we are speaking of digital content. Yet we try to play the same ballgame. Circulating eReaders is the same ballgame, applying the same paradigm we employ lending books to lending digital content. The way I see it, the numbers just don’t work. I’m all ears if anyone has a solution.

    More on your other questions later…

  • Below are my comments to the DPLA–I’m passing them along at Nate’s invitation. Many thanks, Nate!

    Imagine all the thousands of free books that e-reader owners even now can download and share. Better not to associate the actual e-reader tech so closely with DRM. My big point, though, is the DPLA needs to care more about e-books even in their present form–and work on an OverDrive alternative.

    Now if only the DPLA will let me present my side at the Audience and Participation Workshop in Dallas!

    – David Rothman / LibraryCity.org


    Nate, thanks for showing exactly why I should be in Dallas–to offer my viewpoint as an ex-poverty beat reporter who has been enjoying e-books for years, both public domain and commercial. The Audience and Participation workshop there won’t otherwise hear this perspective in sufficient detail. Out of sight, out of mind. E-mail lists like the DPLA’s can offer details but are no substitute for face to face.

    I read your PLA post, I respect your intent, I’m glad you’ll be in Dallas to enrich the debate, and I agree that libraries shouldn’t squander massive amounts of money on expensive e-readers to loan out. But guess what? Libraries can stock some loaners with which patrons can try out the technology. Prices are dropping anyway. And for reasons I’ve explained in detail at the URL below on the librarycity.org site, it would be cost-effective to GIVE e-book-capable tablets away to low-income people for multiple uses, just so they enjoyed the right support from librarians and other professionals.

    Even if full networking is not immediately possible, I’d also argue that driving down the cost of books is a worthy goal. Users’ needs ahead of institutional needs and the passion of academics for experimentation! What to do about a cash-strapped library system like Dwight McInvaill’s in rural South Carolina–where the state’s cost-cutters have decimated content budgets? E-books are one of the best hopes because of their built-in economies, and, as you acknowledge, libraries can develop their own alternatives to gouges from large publishers or their simple refusal to offer e-books to libraries, period. Meanwhile, without delay, libraries can work with sensible publishers of all sizes to fill the void. E-books needn’t be on hold until the experimenters can get their acts together. Libraries urgently need an OverDrive substitute.

    If nothing else, I like the counterarguments that Nathan @SWONTech made in response to your post, and I can’t help but notice that Nathan Swartzendruber is with a library organization serving southwestern Ohio rather than a relatively well-off and tech-hip part of California like SF/San Jose. E-books ARE real books even when DRM-hobbled. It would be irrational and tragic for librarians to think otherwise, given all the good they can do, especially with talented librarians and teachers around to help people absorb them. I know that you’ve said you don’t want libraries just to sit around while e-book tech evolves, but that’s what you’re doing to an extent when you don’t even want libraries to budget for at least some e-book readers to lend out. Even if e-book readers can be a comfortable way to read nonDRMed books, too? Better not to confuse e-book-reader tech with DRM. Thousands and perhaps millions of reader owners stock their gizmos exclusively or mostly with public domain books. Even the horridly locked-down Kindle and Nook can be used with unencumbered public domain titles from Project Gutenberg and elsewhere. In fact, via tweaking that would be too complicated for many users, I have B&N software running on my Kindle Fire right now (something to show in Dallas just for the fun of it)! And with the right library ecosystem in place, DRM-enforced lockdowns and the rest wouldn’t be as tempting as a business model.

    Yes, I can appreciate your concerns. Both my publisher and I hate DRM and went to a lot of trouble to have the Kindle edition of my novel (also a paperback) rid of the taint. Would that we could wipe out all the DRM elsewhere! When I ran the TeleRead e-book site, the fight against DRM was a major issue, maybe THE hot button. It probably still is. Thank goodness!

    The DPLA could help the anti-DRM cause. Via the right eco system, the DPLA has the power to help make e-book standards stick and help deal with the compatibility issues from DRM and otherwise. A friend and I set up a standards organization, OpenReader.org, which in turn prodded the IDPF into releasing the ePub standard used by Apple, Sony, and B&N. With the right ecosystem, described via another URL below, we could end or at least greatly mitigate the damage from DRM. Ecosystems just might be even more effective than court cases.

    How about it, Peggy, Carla, and John? Shouldn’t I be around in Dallas to offer another perspective? Doesn’t the e-book issue count? My wife suffers from mobility problems and would hate to be deprived of a chance to look for and check out a wide variety of modern novels online in digital form, even with the horrid waiting periods. I can’t tell you how dismal her life would be without e-books, especially the library variety. She doesn’t want to be at the mercy of others, and she likes to read samples when available.

    I myself am looking forward to the new networked era, one reason why I want the library model to prevail, given the stable link that would result–a godsend for networked books! But let’s not write off the existing e-book medium as well. As much as I respect Nate, I want to be in Dallas to give my side and represent my fellow e-BOOK lovers.

    You can trot out all the definitions you want, including those from dictionary publishers with a vested interest in the matter. But you know what? It doesn’t matter in the end what the definition of “book” is. Rather the issue is how useful a collection of atoms or a cloud of electrons will be to patrons. People ahead of institutions! Yes, both matter. But people–patrons–do more! If libraries want to avoid further budget cuts and lost jobs, they’d better learn before it’s too late. Same for the DPLA if it wants to be more than a playground for academics and foundations. I’m assuming it does. A fair chance in Dallas, please.

    > If you build a radio from parts in your garage, you’ll have a very different relationship with every radio you listen to from that day on. A tomato you grow in your garden will always taste better than the tomato you bought from the grocery store, and you’ll develop a deep understanding of what that tomato is after you’ve nurtured its growth for months.

    Precisely. As a writer, I know what a book is, especially a novel–words, plot, and characters shared with the word at large. It doesn’t matter whether the container is cardboard or electronic. A tomato is still a tomato.


    A few posts on e-books and tablets K-12 and family literacy:
    http://librarycity.org/?p=2618 (give-away/multiuse angle)

    On an eco-book ecosystem–which could promote standards and at least reduce DRM horrors through new tech and new business models

  • @natenatenate I agree with you on that. I’m talking to librarians who are navigating those questions: do you give one patron an entire shelf of books on an e-reader, which is fantastic for that reader but prohibits others from loading just one of those books? What if this takes place in an academic setting? With a low income student who can’t get to campus on days he or she doesn’t have class? What if we add even more variables?

    Something I notice in reading blog posts about these issues is that the focus of the discussion easily shifts. That’s understandable. Hold a magnifying glass up to this ecosystem, point it anywhere, and you’re sure to find issues. It’s difficult to keep sustained attention on one point, since that comes at the cost of other issues that deserve attention. But without sustained attention, I’m not sure what issue gets addressed in a satisfying way.

    I keep ending with questions, which I’m not a big fan of. Hey I can switch around a bit. Let’s build a radio. We’ll have to steal some parts from busted sets, and it probably won’t be the most high-fidelity unit. But let’s pick one to build before the conversation turns to transistors, solid state, multi-channel, MOSFET, Airplay and Last.FM scrobbling. Let’s get from the studio to the test bench.

  • Rhona Arthur says:

    There are some really interesting comments to reflect on. The big question for me is ‘is reading an ebook a different experience than reading a physocal book?’ I’m really interested in the possibility that reading online might have wider, longer-term societal impact on literacy and also on our relationship with books. Increasingly our societies are moving to an online, ondemand comsumption of music, literature, news and images. What is the impact of the likely world where few people ‘own’ anything anymore? Does that change our relationship with these goods? Does a printed novel have a different impact on a reader than on consumed on an e-reader or screen?

    There are huge potential benefits from having more of the world’s intellectual capital available online through e-books but we have to weigh up the costs too!

  • Ryan says:

    A great article, Nate. As someone that is planning on circulating eReaders in the system, the content provided in this post makes me analyze all my intents and plans. I think we’ll still circulate, but the points brought up in this are very valid. Libraries need to think ahead for once in this area and start paving the path rather than be panting from trying to catch up. The reason why I will continue on my path to circulate (at the moment) is because I feel the library is a place that offers services/experiences, with eReaders and tablets being a major one right now.

  • Of possible interest, though not Nate’s exact topic:

    The hotspot strategy: Cost-justifying free tablet computers for low-income library users


  • Kieran Hixon says:

    (Kieran I posted your comment here instead of the google doc link- I hope that is OK. The link looked spammy! Thanks for your comments)

    Consider the eReader as a gateway drug

    Okay – I admit, I am not a deep thinker and when folks talk about a vinyl record being different from an mp3 because it is a mechanical artifact, my brain definitely tries to dive deep, but I think I am still swimming on the surface here.
    I come from a different perspective perhaps – that of small, rural libraries. I was at a library last month where the annual book budget is $50 and the one paid staff person at the library makes slightly better than minimum wage. Yes, I agree with part of your thesis – I want the library to ‘spend their dollars on programs, equipment, and skillset development for both staff and the people in their communities’. Heck – I work to make that happen. But I disagree that the ‘currently fashionable consumer electronic’ whatever it is – isn’t part of that skillset development.
    A year ago I had never seen an iPad or a touch screen tablet of any sort, but I sure had heard of them. I knew one librarian, in the next town over, that had a Kindle. I called her up and went to see her just so I could touch it – see this e-ink people talk about. Cultural literacy – being part of the national conversation – this is part of the stuff libraries should be bringing to our communities.

    So maybe we need a few other facts: Not everyone can see the original Mona Lisa, but everyone should know what it looks like. Smartphones are not computers, but for some of us it is the best solution to internet access at the lowest price.
    Okay, yeah, most digital media has rules, dumb rules… I agree it is a system that is not yet working. Baen Books found that ‘The Baen Free Library’, where they give away digital copies of their books for free, has brought them sales… but the big publishers haven’t figured that out.
    So, what is the ROI for an eReader at a library? In my thinking the first and largest return on the investment is familiarity with current technology. Not feeling poor and out of the loop with something that ‘everybody’ is talking about. Oh, and every free Baen book and every Project Gutenberg book…. if they had to be purchased in print…. hecka expensive. Yes, if 100 Project Gutenberg books are downloaded for free on one $99 Nook, only one person could check any of them out at any one time where as if you spent the $99 on …let’s see… 30 paperback editions of classic novels then 30 folks could be checking out the classics at the same time for a couple years until the paperback book wore out. But in a community where dial-up is prevalent (shoot, dial-up is not even available where my house is located), any mode of accessing all these free books is really a good ROI.
    But where you seem to be going is that the ROI is part of changing from consumption to creation of content. Yeah, my 5 year old niece and I used an app the other day and she ‘created’ a story on a Color Nook…. It probably had DRM or now ‘really’ belongs to some corporation… I don’t know.

    I agree, I want libraries to take on these bigger aims – for a future where their communities ‘produce and participate in new digital works, not simply consume them.’ But how am I to get to “media labs, hacker spaces, coworking spaces, expert staff, and a long term investment in technologies supporting community creativity” without the library even investing in ‘currently fashionable consumer electronic’. Consider the eReader as a gateway drug perhaps…. Or imagine a library space where first the folks hear beautiful music on cheap MP3 players and DRM-ed downloads, then they are encouraged to make their own MP3….so they start a band and the library partners with them to create their own MP3… See, it starts somewhere. Somewhere practical where the ‘passive consumers’ have buy-in. You sound like you want to get to the very deep end of the pool without touching the surface. I am up here on the surface looking for a way down there. Let’s figure the how – how we get to the creation of content. Give me a place to jump in.

  • I mostly agree with your points, but I take offense at your
    assumption that I am reading something on a Kindle.
    Because that is as much as to assume that I don’t value the
    freedom that the Kindle Swindle is designed to take away.
    (See http://gnu.org/philosophy/the-danger-of-ebooks.html.)

    I will never have a Kindle, and never read ebooks with Digital
    Restrictions Management. Please join me: all it takes to defeat them
    is for enough of us to reject them.

    Dr Richard Stallman
    President, Free Software Foundation
    http://www.fsf.org http://www.gnu.org

  • Nate Hill says:

    @Richard – thanks for your comment- I was just using the Kindle as an example, and wouldn’t will that upon you :)

  • Curtis says:

    It’s hard enough for our librarians to keep up with changes in the ebook/ereader market; I can’t imagine trying to do it without owning the devices! We are a small public library but own at least one of all the B&N, Amazon, and Sony readers, along with an iPad. The devices have been integral with our staff training and e-reader programs for the public, which have been very well-attended.

  • Nate Hill says:

    Please, before you comment read the whole post. I absolutely support purchasing test devices so that you and your staff know how to use them, help patrons, and make design decisions. My point was that purchasing lots of them to circulate doesn’t scale in any way.

  • Michelle Mears says:

    While I agree on the potential of digital files to be linked, intertwined, and shared, there are some of us who still just enjoy a good STORY, one with a beginning and an ending and a bunch of made up stuff in between. I don’t want to be led to or pointed out the connections between the fantasy novel I just read and the principles of facism versus democracy exhibited therein or whatever else might happen to connect out there in the ether. There is a place in our culture for stories, and the enjoyment we get from them is not limited by the container they come in. And I want to make sure storytellers get compensated for their work, so I don’t have a problem with DRM for the most part, just when it interferes with access to the story from being too complex or it doesn’t work right. The analogies of the physical book world aren’t just because we are too lazy or unintelligent to conceive of a different schema, but because what we do in libraries stems from first sale doctrine. There will always be a struggle in the balance between encouraging creators of works to keep working and making those same works available to society so they inspire more creating (or maybe just soothe our stress with a little escapism). Just because technology makes potential access more widespread doesn’t mean that it should. And access doesn’t imply immediacy. The compromise of Free in libraries is Wait Your Turn, and that’s not because we are stingy with the books but because we are ensuring that creators have been compensated, at least for the x number of copies we purchase for our communities.

    As for the devices themselves, I agree that libraries can’t do hardware on a large scale. But we have a history of making format as important as content. We buy titles in regular print, large print, audio, and now ebook format to fill the demand. We stopped buying books on tape and switched to books on CD when the market made it clear that one format was more popular than the other. Remember when PC stood for personal computer, not public computer? So we have public computers and now ebook devices to make a small dent in the gap between those who have their own and those who don’t. That’s all we can do, and historically that’s what public libraries are all about. So you’re right, an ebook is not a book. But it is an ingredient added to the library soup, so we better be ready to give our users a taste.

  • M. Gregory says:

    I’d argue that these points are true for any technology. There is never a golden moment when a technology (or a business model) is fully realized and at which point it will be suitable for investment. One might as well argue that we shouldn’t provide public PCs, because of restrictive software licensing, and the limited functionality compared to what we surely will be able to provide twenty years from now… The problem being that we have a responsibility to respond to the expectations of our patrons, and part of what we ourselves have led them to expect is access to new technologies to enhance their learning and reading experiences.

  • Nate Hill says:

    Thanks everyone for great comments. Sorry I haven’t replied to everyone. Trying to do my day job at the same time here :)

    Expect a follow up post. A lot of responses don’t seem to be particularly contrary to my points in the article, yet the article seems to have put many on the defensive. To be clear as can be: while I’m using a lot of intense language to describe the fact that eBooks are far different from ‘just another format’, my point is really that any money you spend on one thing you can’t spend on another. If you spend money on circulating eReaders, it scales poorly and you don’t get that much content to that many patrons. I tried to explain the nature of digital content in order to make that point. If you instead spend money on media labs, content creation stations, devices as simple as digital cameras and scanners, and staff and classes who know how to use them, you can get more bang for your buck. Use your dollars wisely.

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  • David B says:

    There are very strong economic reasons why ebooks should be sold WITHOUT digital rights management…

    See this article for details:


  • […] An eBook is not a Book (arguments against the check-out of eReaders)- PLA blog […]

  • […] An eBook is not a Book (arguments against the check-out of eReaders)- PLA blog […]

  • Alex Trepp says:

    Acknowledging your scaling points, I’m curious about your vision. Instead of a comment, its just a series of questions.

    Absent an alternative compensation model for publishers and authors, do you think authors and publishers will continue to produce diverse materials? Exempting SOPA and DRM, which have much broader implications than the 26 Circ constraint, do you imagine that the production of academic and popular literature is sustainable absent some intellectual property protections? Your thought experiment is interesting, but books seem different from music, because authors can’t tour to generate income. It feels like a new compensation structure is required to realize potential gains with trading off against existing benefits.

  • […] have started to issue e-readers  preloaded with titles, and there are strong arguments for and against this move. Academic libraries, especially those outside of the United States, do not have  so […]

  • Nancy Grant says:

    Library equals choice
    Choice equals: Stories in any format (paperback, hardcover, audio, visual, off- or online), stories authored by one or many, stories finished or evolving, stories of one or many genres, stories for children/teens/adults/multi-aged, stories produced in the library or in the virtual world, stories that are free/donations taken/paid for, …………………

    Librarians are people who fight for patrons’ choice of access to stories.

  • Michael Vollmar-Grone says:

    Paper and the printing press were once new technologies. Wonder if the scribes felt the same way about their manuscripts.

  • […]  As a further exploration of this issue,  I offer a really interesting blog post by a librarian, An eBook Is Not a Book. The future will be really exciting as long as we too, in our field and with generous goals, […]

  • […] An eBook is not a Book by Nate Hill In this transitional time, public libraries should aim for the future and invest in toolsets and programming that help their communities produce and participate in new digital works, not simply consume them.  To make something is to understand something.  […]

  • Erin says:

    I’m hopping in to this discussion late, but I find it fascinating nonetheless. I direct a small, rural library, and we loan out 6 Kindles to the public (with 4 more on the way – 2 for kids and 2 for YA) and the patrons love this service! They are always on hold and people really appreciate being able to try out this technology. Many of the patrons have gone out and purchased one afterward while others say they prefer paper books. Either way they are grateful for the experience. Since you can buy one copy of a book from Amazon and share it between 6 devices, we are basically spending under $2/book for our devices. We have them pre-loaded with bestsellers and people love being able to bypass the long wait-lists for the books on our shelves. We also use them for book clubs and training.

    We also own a Nook (so we can know how to help patrons access ebooks through OverDrive with this device) and an iPad (for OverDrive training and also for weeding, reference in the stacks, etc).

    I feel that the small amount we paid for these devices has made us much more relative to our community. Instead of being thought of as a behind the times facility, they now come to us with their tech questions and we hear a lot of praise in the community about the direction we are going. I understand that we are in a small town and libraries in larger cities may not have the need for this service. Still, I think it’s something to consider for certain communities.