The question was asked by Dick Eastman in a recent post entitled, "Do E-Books Spell the End of Lending Libraries." The post linked to a BBC report called, "Can libraries survive in a digital world? In checking on the status of various digital library projects, I found a Wikipedia page listing current digitizing efforts. Note, the links are to Wikipedia pages not to the libraries. Surprisingly, the list did not contain some of the well known genealogical scanning projects such as the Family History Archives and the efforts by Archive.org both of which contain major genealogically related materials. On the other hand, the list is quite impressive. Now the question asked by the article Dick Eastman referred to "lending" libraries and the British Library is not a lending library and neither is the Family History Library. So what does the digitizing projects have to do with the question? Apparently nothing except an example of what is going on with digitizing.
The BBC news spot really discussed E-Lending and so in order to see how all this works, I went onto the site for my local public library and using my library card signed up for E-Lending. Within a few minutes I was able to download and read two books. (I mean download and start to read, I couldn't read the books in a few minutes). Anyway, my library uses the Adobe Digital Editions program which unfortunately means that I can't download the books to my iPhone. However, that wasn't such a problem since the e-book collection at my library was woefully limited. I constantly read books on my iPhone. I am finishing two of them presently. So where do I get the books if they don't come from the public library?
I normally look for books on Google's E-books where they have more than 6 million books, just a few more than the whole State of Arizona's libraries put together, and of those, over a million come up in a search for the word "genealogy." Do I think that e-books will put the lending libraries out of business? No, but lack of availability of books might. I used to go to my public library about once a week and look through the new book arrivals. Guess what? No, new books. Due to extensive budget shortfalls in our community, the City cut the library budget (of course) and so no new books. So now I go to the library or look at the catalog and guess what? No books on Blogging. No books on Wikis. No books on almost anything current or interesting. So where do I go for books? Back to Google.com or maybe to Amazon.com.
On Google, I found an electronic copy of a book I had been searching for, for more than two years. Was there a chance that the book would ever be in my local lending libraries? Not on your life.
The idea here is that lending libraries will have to change their operational model to something that can provide an easy and accessible online service. It is true that as digitizing makes greater inroads into the world of books, there are fewer reasons to visit a lending library or even a reference library. Ask yourself this question, would you travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to the Family History Library if all of the microfilms and almost all of the books in their collection were available online for free?
When I was a lot younger, I remember going to the movies and having tables set up in the foyer asking everyone to sign to ban video tapes because they would kill the movie business. Did video tapes kill the movie business? Not. Will E-Lending kill lending libraries. Maybe, especially if they only lend books no one wants to read. Will E-Lending kill book sales? Not a chance. Paper books might decline, but authors and publishers can make as much or more profit from an e-book as they can from a traditional paper one. By the way, you are reading online.