Will libraries survive the ebook revolution?

A library is much more than just a book warehouse; it’s an important cornerstone for a healthy community.

Libraries give people the opportunity to broaden their horizons. Whether that’s through finding a new job, exploring medical research, discovering new ideas, or just getting lost in wonderful stories, they are a safe haven perfect for personal development.

But can they survive the rising threat of technology?

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say ereaders changed my life. I read around 50 books each year and the fact that I can have multiple books in my pocket at any time of day, anywhere in the world, blows my mind.

I adored my weekly trip to the library with my mum when I was a child. Choosing my books for the week was such a pleasure (maybe not so much for my mum as she had to sit and wait for me).

But now, I have access to millions of books at my fingertips and that trip has morphed into scrolling the Kindle store until something piques my interest.

Saying that, I do still buy some books. My Kindle is reserved for fast fiction, true crime, autobiographies, and international books that haven’t made it to Australia yet. Some books are special objects in themselves and need to be purchased in their intended form.

To quote author Neil Gaiman: “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”

When most people think ‘library’ they think books, but books are slowly taking on a different shape. Audiobooks and ebooks are becoming more common, but it doesn’t seem to be happening quite as quickly as the world predicted.

At the beginning of the 2010s, we seemed to be poised for an ebook revolution.

The Amazon Kindle was released in 2007 and mainstreamed ebooks. Analysts were sure they weren’t just a fad and predicted they would disrupt the publishing industry. Millennials were supposed to embrace ebooks with open arms and never look back. Ebooks sales would rise, their prices would fall, and publishing would forever be changed.

Rather, at the end of the decade, ebook sales stabilised at around 20 per cent of total book sales, with print books making up the remaining 80 per cent.

And ebooks aren’t only selling less than predicted, they’re also costing more. Surprisingly, they are often more expensive than their print equivalents.

Luckily, apps such as BorrowBox and Libby have revolutionised the library ebook lending system. You still need a library card, but once you’ve created an account and entered your library card number, you can access all the audio and ebook content that your library subscribes to. For most libraries, that’s a lot of books.

These apps work the same way as borrowing a book from a library. If someone else has the book you can reserve it and read it when it gets returned. If you haven’t finished it after your loan period you can renew it, and if you finish it early, just hit ‘return’ and get another one.

They are great for the industry because it protects the rights of the publishers and the authors – it means the authors are remunerated in the right way, in the same way as traditional libraries.

The bottom line is that libraries need to have ebooks for their readers to check out, because that’s likely how people are going to read in the future but they’re definitely not the be-all and end-all.

These apps are just one way libraries are staying relevant in the digital age. Many have really stepped up to stay relevant and meet the community’s needs; you can often sign up to author talks, workshops, local history lectures, cultural events and various programs for kids.

I’ve become a huge fan of my local library over the past three years and the more time I spend there, the more I notice how much it means to people.

It’s a helping hand for travellers needing to print visas, flight tickets and resumes.

It’s a ritual for the elderly woman who sits in her favourite comfy chair and reads mystery novels twice a week.

It’s the magic that is children learning to read through story time and read along.

It’s a space for students to meet their tutors and expand their knowledge.

It’s a way to cultivate and make dreams come true

What does the library mean to you? Do you have an ereader?

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Written by Ellie Baxter


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