I went looking for the digital future of libraries at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting this week. Conveniently, the conference was held in Seattle, near a couple of very forward-looking library systems that make eBooks, mobile apps and digital downloads expected, almost routine.
But if the exhibit hall represented the near future for libraries, that future is still all about paper. Lots and lots of paper.
The hall consisted of more than 400 booths — visited by nearly 10,000 people including public, school, academic and corporate library staff over the span of the event. I went hunting for the tech. Not the standard stuff of behind-the-scenes library automation, on-screen research databases or free computer and Internet access (the last a tech service prized highly by patrons). But for the digital content and tools that have the potential to transform a library experience.
First stop: the major book publishers. Random House, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, W.W. Norton, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Penguin and Disney had large and colorful booths. But nothing digital to be found among the stacks of fiction and non-fiction. eBooks? Not even a mention.
Wait: there was an Amazon booth. Excited, I rushed over. It turned out to be for Amazon Children’s Publishing. It also only had physical books. When I asked the rep where the Kindles were, I got a shrug and the comment, “A big part of our market is libraries and printed books.” Not a Kindle to be found.
After more searching, I came up with a handful of exceptions among the major book publishers. Britannica Digital Learning was totally pixels, introducing Merriam-Webster Unabridged. Scholastic had its newish digital lines FreedomFlix and TrueFlix tucked away in a corner of its huge book-laden display (this minimal presence, I was told, was because they were based on popular physical lines,Cornerstones of Freedom and True Books). McGraw-Hill Professional was showing engineering and science interactive books.
So where were the eBooks that publishers are offering through Amazon, Nook and libraries? (read rest of post)