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Rather than detail other sessions I have gone to here at ALA Midwinter, I thought I’d follow a thread that has gone throughout them and try and give some perspectives and ideas that have come to me. Ebooks, not surprisingly, have been a hot topic – everyone wants to know if we have hit the tipping point with them thanks to the Kindle, Nook, ebook vendors for libraries, etc. I find it all a bit curious, since ebooks have been the ‘next big thing’ in libraries for most of my 15 years at ZSR. That, combined with my love of the physical book keeps me skeptical about this being the decade of the ebook – but a few things at this conference got me thinking.

First, in the Top Technology Trends session that Susan has already blogged about, David Walker mentioned two different concepts in relation to ebooks that got my brain going. First, in the discussion about augmented reality, David ( I think it was him, if not, it was Jason Griffey) talked about an idea for an app that could tell where you were in the stacks and pop up for you related ebooks that the library had access to. This got me thinking about the difficulties of being sure students had access to all the information about a topic when some are physical books and some are ebooks – we certainly won’t go around putting dummy blocks in the stacks where ebooks would be if they were in print, but how do we help students who may be wandering the stacks understand that in this discipline we have gone to ebooks so the most recent titles may not be on the shelves. Conversely, how do we indicate to ebook users that there are other relevant titles in the stacks.

But more intriguing, however, was David’s discussion of how ebooks may level the playing field between books and journals. He discussed his experience in college was that books were easier to use than print journals so he gravitated to them. Students today find journals easier to use (as long as they are online) so they gravitate to them, even when what they really need is a good overview not the super-specific look journal articles often give you. But when both types of information, the journal and the monograph, are equally accessible and equally easy to use, perhaps the ultimate result will be that students get much more balanced sources of information because they will go to the one that is best, not the one that is easiest.

The ebook conversation continued in the GOBI user group meeting where they discussed the new ability to include ebooks as part of approval plans. But what they made clear was that it would go easier if you could make broad statements (ebook preferred across the board, ebooks from all vendors, etc) rather than the super specific ‘we want ebooks only from EBL and only in these very narrow call number ranges.’ Additionally, however, they indicated the problem we have discussed as well which is that vendors often don’t make ebooks available at the same time as the print – this means that libraries have often already gotten the print by the time ebook is available. I can’t tell and don’t know enough to decide whether this is a deliberate move on the part of publishers because they want everyone to buy the print (cynical view) or if it really takes that much longer to get the e-version of a book out when the native format is print. Perhaps it will take a rethinking of the monograph publishing process where books are born digital in formats that take advantage of the power of linking, etc. and the print book only comes later.

Finally, the ideas of letting your patrons decide what books to buy electronically via patron-driven ebook collection development was discussed in both the GOBI User Group Meeting and a session on innovation by necessity which I am sure Carolyn McCallum will blog in more detail. I’ll just say that the patron-driven ebook purchasing seems to be a promising development that will take careful consideration in terms of budgeting and other aspects but the research that was discussed indicates that patrons do as good a job deciding what libraries need as librarian liaisons/bibliographers do in most areas. It’s an idea I find intriguing and will follow at the schools that are implementing it.

I talked to lots of vendors (LOTS of vendors) and will be sharing various information with folks in the weeks to come – but one interesting thing is that three independent vendors have new slavery/anti-slavery primary source collections – perhaps its something in the water. Now we are off to the airport in hopes that our flight is not delayed! Fingers crossed we’ll see you tomorrow (Tuesday)!!