Post #3: When is a book a book?

I have been thinking a lot lately about books. I love books. I own hundreds, and with the bookshelves full, I now have to navigate through and around the dozens of piles that are now making their way skyward in my library at home (and yet I continue to buy more.) After reading an article about the Open Content Alliance’s digitalization of its member’s book collections however, I had to ask myself, when is a book a book? If universities and the Library of Congress can put their entire (or special) collections into a digital format and store them online, and be accessed from anywhere, anytime, what does it mean to be a book?

It’s not about the book anymore, it’s about the content. The content is the book. And because we live in a digital world, this content can be in many formats, which is a good thing. Libraries too own lots of books. But unless libraries begin to offer this content in a format that the user expects, the library will begin to lose relevancy in its users’ lives. Others have already figured this out. Google Books certainly has. (Copyright issues aside, Google gets it.) So have the people who make E-readers. Although not for everyone, an e-reader kind of gives the look and feel of a “real” book, is portable, and has an added advantage in that it can be many books at different times. (check out

Audio books have been around for awhile both on CD and cassette. There even is a “Netflix” type service out there that for $15 a month will let you listen to an unlimited supply of audio books (Simply Audio Books.) Ipods?, The Audio Bookstore, and Apple’s itunes all let you download your favorite book into your ipod. Want to read on your computer? Go to NetLibrary and download your favorites to read on your laptop (a service offered by the Chicago Public Library.)

The user now expects that books be available in multiple formats. Are we ready to make the changes that our users expect? And if we are, how will we reconfigure our library’s physical space to accommodate these changes? How will we reallocate scarce library resources? And who will do this stuff? How will we redefine circulation? Measure it? Market it? Are we even asking these questions? We should be. We NEED to be, because the expectations of our users demand it.

The New York Public Library understands this. In an interview with msnbc, Susan Kent, director and chief executive of the branch libraries, said ” we are delighted to announce the availability of downloadable audio books as a part of our circulating collection.” “Library users today are much more technologically sophisticated than ever; our aim is to continue to provide our users with free access to materials in whichever format they prefer.”

So to answer my own question, a book is a book when what’s inside it is made available to the user in any format the user chooses. Times change. So must we.


~ by bassperr on October 25, 2007.

2 Responses to “Post #3: When is a book a book?”

  1. I agree that libraries must keep up with the times and concentrate on providing information in different formats. Patrons should be able to get the information in the format of their choice. But personally I think nothing can beat reading a plain old print book !

  2. Hello, nice site 🙂

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