9.10.2013

The Library is your Oyster

Books! For free! Just lying around like it's no big deal!
It was inevitable that something like Oyster would happen. iTunes came for the music. Netflix came for the movies. Oyster offers a digital rental/subscription model for books. You pay a monthly fee to borrow books from a pool of titles from one of the Big Five, HarperCollins. (Jeff O'Neal over at BookRiot got to try out Oyster and wrote one of the best introductions to it I've seen so far. Read it here: "Oyster: The Netflix for Books You've Been Waiting For.") What I'm not seeing in all the buzz is someone asking, "Hey, don't libraries loan books for free?"

I'm well aware that few libraries have digital books on offer right now. We're stymied by publisher restrictions and technological hurdles. But libraries are still the best place to get your hands on a book (presuming you don't just want to buy your own copy). Until publishers relax or libraries get more funding to pay the inflated institutional costs of ebooks, it won't get any easier to legally get an ebook. I know that. (This, in itself, is an incendiary topic to bring up around librarians.)

We still keep the dangerous ones locked up. (Just kidding. 
This is the Hereford Cathedral Library and I expect that each 
of those books is worth more than Warren Buffet.)
I suspect that Oyster looks attractive--even at $9.95 a month--because right now, there's no way to pass on an ebook you don't like. You can't give it away and you certainly can't resell it. It's a gamble when you buy one. Amazon does have access to kindle reader data and found that most books are only read once by a reader. It makes sense to just borrow (or rent, if you must) a book and give it back when you're done. But that's what libraries have been doing for hundred of years. Hell, we took the chains off of them so that people could take their books home.

Almost every week at my library, I hear students and faculty suggest services to us...that we already have in place. Sometimes we've had those "new" services for years. It frustrates me no end. But it saddens and angers me when I see an organization actually reinvent the wheel and then have the gall to charge people to use it.

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