This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

December 30, 2010 - give an ebook to the library

Years ago I visited a cluster of libraries in north Texas. One of the library directors told me that their equivalent of a county commissioner couldn't see a reason to buy new books for the library. He said, "People haven't read all the old ones yet!"

And he was right. But the modern library, like the modern grocery or clothing store, survives on fresh inventory.

So what happens to the old stuff? In library jargon, materials that don't get used (which often includes older materials) are "weeded." They are removed from our collection.

Maybe that makes you sad. But in truth, this is one of the great untold success stories of libraries. Such books aren't just tossed into dumpsters - unless they're 1958 encyclopedias or dangerously outdated textbooks.

There is a brisk after-market of library materials.

We give them to poorer libraries. We give them to charter schools. We give them to teachers. We give them to churches. We sell them individually in our own booksales, and by the lot to Amazon (which shares back a commission from each sale). We send them overseas to our soldiers, or in cooperation with civic groups to international schools. What can't be used is recycled.

The wonder of print is that its life after it leaves the library is just beginning. What is weeded from our shelves blooms in many other hands (and may show up in library booksales more than once!).

I view this as perfectly in keeping with the mission of the library. We buy a lot of books, about 150,000 a year. But we also weed about that many. Bottom line? Combined, every year, we release about a third of a million titles into our communities, all at a fraction of their original cost. The more books in people's homes and hands, the closer we come to fulfilling our goal to promote literacy.

Last week I wrote about our ebook project: e-Discover the Classics. We offer about 500 classic titles for free download. And in fact, just this week I re-read Conan Doyle's "Hound of the Baskervilles" and "She," by H. Rider Haggard. I read them, in fact, on my cell phone, which proved remarkably convenient.

There's a lot to be said for the classics. They're not just old. They're good!

But here's something you probably don't think much about. What's the after-market for ebooks?

If I buy a book, the odds are good that at some point I'll give it away. I want to share it with a friend. I want to donate it to the library to route it to someone else, as above.

How do I give away an ebook?

If ebooks really do start to displace print - a trend that seems likely, although print in some form will no doubt remain for a long time - that question matters. Ebook content is locked down to prevent casual sharing of a file. Obviously, if you can just email a book to somebody, then that cuts into sales by quite a lot.

But if you can't give it away, even though you bought it and supposedly own it, the net result is the disappearance of that aftermarket. Fewer cheap books. Fewer donated books.

Fewer books.

I've just been appointed to a national task force of the American Library Association to tackle this issue, among others. My idea is this: I'd like to launch a national campaign. In 2011, give an ebook to the library, so we can let other people read it. Don't know how to do that?

Shouldn't we figure it out?

LaRue's Views are his own.

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