A couple of weeks ago, an older relative of mine mentioned that he'd heard on the radio that a publishing company announced a deal to lend ebooks through libraries. I said, "Well, there are quite a few libraries already lending ebooks right now." He looked confused and said, "No, the radio said this was a new thing." He couldn't/wouldn't believe it was already happening. I have no idea when the last time he actually went to a library was but I was still surprised he didn't already know that library ebooks were an actual thing.
He's not alone. Earlier this month the Pew Research Center released its report Libraries, Patrons, and Ebooks, subtitled "12% of e-book readers have borrowed an e-book from a library. Those who use libraries are pretty heavy readers, but most are not aware they can borrow e-books." They're definitely not burying the lede there: almost 60% of library patrons polled did not know if their library system had ebooks available. Almost 50% of ereader-owning patrons and over 50% of tablet owners didn't know either.
Librarians and library staff were polled as well, and they provided a good look at the changing role of libraries in communities and the growing importance of ebooks and technology for patrons. Visits to the actual library-particularly by heavy users- are decreasing because they can download ebooks from home, which means that librarians are having less face-to-face contact with patrons. Library budgets are shifting and more money is being spent on technology, which means less money for individual titles. Computer technology has become a crucial resource at libraries over the past ten years, especially for patrons who don't have access to computers or the internet from home. The other big change is in the role of librarians: more and more librarians are being called upon to help patrons with technology on top of their usual responsibilities. In some cases the library staff is only just learning that technology at the same time as the patrons. Tech support could now almost be considered as crucial to library science as the Dewey Decimal System.
Another problem that's cropping up is, once again, the format of the ebooks offered. Just last night, a friend complained that her town's library system didn't have ebooks formatted for Kindle so she couldn't read any of its ebooks. (Apparently the library only had about fifty ebooks anyway.) Her workaround? She used her mother's library card from another town in another state for ebooks. Is this the library equivalent of ebook piracy? People want to read ebooks and they'll figure out a way to do it, strictly legal or not. Since checking out an ebook from a library doesn't require physically being in the library, perhaps libraries should look into a more centralized system that would allow ebook users access to many city and state libraries and their ebook catalogues, something akin to what universities libraries do now. It would help smaller libraries that might not have the resources to create an ebook program of their own plus it would create a much larger selection, both titles and formats, for all ebook readers.