Some of you may know that I am celebrating the unboxing of the Mireau family treasures onto library shelving that travels most of the length of my new house. My husband and I are getting up extra early these days to enjoy our reading time before the work day begins. The alarm ringing at 5 is obnoxious but the extra minutes spent with a novel is lovely. I am secretly hoping that it continues to rain so that I can read novels for my vacation next week rather than landscape.

A few of the novels read in the past couple of months have been downloads to the various ereader apps on my iPad. When there is a hole in a collection, or it someone else grabbed the desired item first, or when something is unavailable in the print or digital public library collection in the moment that I want to consume it, an e-book version is a handy alternative. In my world – alternative not replacement.

A few items came my way this week that provoked some personal reflection on electronic books:

1. From Time: Bookless Library Trend (hat tip to John DiGilio aka iBrary Guy)
2. From the scholarly kitchen: The Ticklish Problem of Pricing E-books for Libraries (Thanks to Alicia Posesorski of Irwin Law)
3. From Stephen Abram at Stephen’s Lighthouse: New Textbook Models
4. Simon Chesters Slaw post yesterday about Internet Archive Canada’s financial woes.

The references above make for some very interesting reading and some worrying thoughts. Will the trend of e-books further narrow publisher competition? Will the proliferation of accessible written work increase literacy, decrease monetization, destroy copyrights? Is a scholarly borrowable collection going to be available to non-academics or are license fees and restrictions for academic libraries going to limit access for those outside the insitution? What does all of this mean for my law firm library budget? What does it mean for our clients in terms of the cost of legal services?


  1. David Collier-Brown

    I’m not sure about all the other communities, but the hardest-core most “on-line” of nerds buy books.

    I once co-wrote a non-fiction book (Using Samba, 1st ed, from O’Reilly) which as part of a marketing deal was available in its entirety on-line. Every user of Samba got an electronic copy.

    The sales of the paper book took off, much to my editor’s amazement: we were third into the marketplace with a small number of prospective purchasers, and expected to barely break even. Instead, it was one of their best sellers that year.

    It eventually turned out that nerds buy books that they already know are good, to have a copy they can read in the bathtub, scribble on, and put yellow stickies in. They also have electronic copies, which they search.

    I now find myself doing the same: I find a book that’s available in full on-line or on a subscription service I use, and then order it, to read at my convenience. I often search the on-line copy to see where to turn to in the printed copy. I occasionally re-read bit of the on-line copy, because my copy is back in my office.

    I’m therefor optimistic about books, and went so far as to take a job with a publisher. As a nerd, of course!


  2. David Collier-Brown

    Seen in passing: the psychology and physiology of reading from a screen…

  3. This is quite a timely post. I recently came across an instance where a library has been dismantled to make room for innovation (whatever that means).

    That said, I’m just wondering from a business perspective if there are any examples from those offices, businesses, etc. who have chosen to rely solely on online or digital publications for reference and research purposes whether you’ve a back-up or emergency plan should the database or the digital product(s) not be available for whatever reason — be it power outage, systems failure? Or, is such a plan even needed as part of risk or crisis management?

  4. Thanks for this Shauna. As usual your post is both timely and insightful. What I take away from your comments and from the various posts to which you have provided links is that the digital environment has not changed the fundamental fact that the library community and the writing and publishing communities are in a symbiotic relationship. Neither is helped by hurting the other.

  5. About ten years ago, I worked at a firm which went paperless with its business information centre. It seemed to work pretty well for the accounting side of the business, but was an unmitigated disaster for the lawyers. Of course, at the time there was very little secondary literature available on line, so I was constantly negotiating ILLs to address the lack.

    I wonder if tablets are going to be a game-changer. They’re easier to read than a smart phone, more portable than a pc, and you can mark pages, annotate and customize to your heart’s content.

    Not bathtub-friendly, though.

  6. I am a life-long reader and several rooms in my house feature long shelves of books. Recently, however, I have been using the Kindle app on my iPad to download books: novels, non-fiction, work-related, etc. I was taken by surprise last evening at bookclub when the thought that came to me on observing this month’s book in the hands of another member was ‘what an odd artifact.’ The delivery system (hard cover, paper pages, woven binding) suddenly struck me as quaint and to some extent unneccessary when the intrinsic value of a book is its contents. Mind you, I do mind that I can’t share the electronic books on my iPad, and I value more than ever the books that require a physical presence to be fully appreciated. Examples of the latter include many books of poetry, illustrated books, and books that make use of the paper medium to deliver a creative experience. As a writer, I see that the economics of publishing are changing, and I am spending a lot of time learning what this means for writers, publishers and readers.

  7. Thanks for the comments! I hope others will weigh in as well.

    To add to the market confusion/congestion/commoditization/conundrum there is announcement about a new ereader device that syncs with Google eBooks at