Anyone who has ever lived in a small town has probably experienced the power of the small town social grapevine at one point or another. You told one person news or did something unusual and suddenly the everyone you run into is asking you about it. Sometimes it feels as though people are by hyper-aware of each others actions and options.
Perhaps this small town mentality is what caused me to be so shocked when I heard member of the library staff talk down e-books and e-readers. On a couple of occasions in recent months I’ve witnessed this person talk about how ebooks can’t compare to ‘real books’, that e-books dissuade people from visiting the library, and that ebooks can negatively impact your brain function. After reflection I began to wonder how many other people in the library heard these statements and repeated them as fact. Or have noticed that the library is one of the few in Ontario that seems to have opted out of Overdrive (the Ontario Library Service digital book portal).
I love my physical books. I am also an active user of a Kobo and I routinely read online. I also still visit my local library on a fairly regular basis. In my mind there are distinct benefits to both physical and electronic forms of reading and I like each for different reasons. I can understand librarians (and users) being frustrated with ebooks terms or use and lending conditions. But, being frustrated with a flawed usage agreement is no reason to discount an entire type of reading or user group.
On any evening visit to the library the entire bank of computers is typically home to a number of local children and youth, all engaging in digital content in some shape or form. I have rarely seen these same children/youth browsing through the physical stacks. Anecdotally this might suggest that these library users are looking for a different type of library than one which focuses solely on physical books. In this respect the local library is making strides by making a wii available, hosting community events, having an active facebook account and digitizing their local history collection.
E-books have the potential to be just one of the many services offered by a public library. Encouraging people to explore digital publications does not mean that libraries will cease to exist. It merely means that the range of services and focus of the library expands to include digital formats. Additionally, ebooks have a potential to engage younger users in reading in a way that physical books might not. I really hope that the small town grapevine doesn’t spread the evils of e-readers and that people examine their benefits before making a decision about their value.