Saturday, January 29, 2011

Is the world really ready for e-readers anyway?

I found this great tutorial video for how to use Overdrive to read library books on your e-reader:

The video was produced by the Sacramento Public Library, a library that obviously is on the e-resources bandwagon.  Check out the featured link to e-resources right there on their homepage (cleverly embedded within the iPod icon). 

While I'm really grateful for such helpful tutorials, watching it made me wonder something.  Are the majority of public library patrons really ready for e-readers?  I mean, this is a fairly complicated transaction, much more so than taking books to the circulation desk.  I'm no geek, but I'm fairly comfortable with technology, and even I began to think, while the instructional video rolled on and on, step after step, "oh my god, what does it take to get a library book on a Nook?  Maybe I should be glad I have a Kindle!".  :-)

Then I thought about the patrons I see at the public library.  It seems like so many of them have a great deal of trouble using basic computer tools.  The reference librarians are constantly on call, troubleshooting this, walking a patron through that.  And the problems that tangle up these patrons are often dealing with the "simple" things like emailing or printing.  How likely is it that these patrons are going to be able to negotiate the multi-step process of downloading books to an e-reader?

What I fear is that the adoption of e-reader compatible books will drive another technological wedge between the haves and the have-nots.  More affluent patrons will have even fewer reasons to enter the library proper meaning less mingling across the social strata.  And the less direct contact they have with the library as a place, the less attached they are likely to be to it when the next millage vote comes along.  Will e-readers mean the further ghettoization of the public library?

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