Point/Counter-Point Hot Topics in Teen Services: How Far to Go With e Collections?

Welcome to YALSA”s first in an occasional series in which two bloggers debate a topic of current interest to librarians serving teens.

In this first post YALSA Blog Manager and High School Librarian, mk Eagle, and YALSA Immediate Past President and Educational Technology Consultant, Linda W. Braun, talk e-collections.

Linda Says, “Go Heavy into e – It will Be Freeing”

Think About the Time You’ll Have
A lot of what I hear when I work with librarians in schools and public libraries is “I don’t have the time.” People say, “ I don’t have the time to keep up with technology, books, programs, teen news and trends.” You name it, librarians are telling me they don’t have the time. Why not? Sometimes it’s because they are spending time on tasks that are important when working with a physical collection, but might not be the best use of time when it comes to connecting with teens and building strong relationships. For example, how many minutes or hours do librarians working with teens spend looking for a book that is misshelved? Or, what about all of the time that’s spent shelving books because there are carts and carts loaded with stuff that needs to be reshelved and if the librarian doesn’t do it, who will? Or, what about all the time a book can’t be found because it is sitting on a cart in order to be reshelved? If many of the materials are e than that means these shelving issues go away and time is freed up to focus on other parts of the job.

Think about all of the time you would have to talk with teens about the books they would like to read, or time you would have for getting to know teens so that you can build relationships in order to purchase the e-materials that they might be most interested in. Think about the time you would have to work on collection development, and perhaps be able to find materials more successfully because you have time to look beyond the traditional resources that are most easily and quickly accessible. Maybe if the library was heavy on the e-side, the collection would actually improve. And, as they say, “time is money.” So, if you have time to spend on other important tasks, doesn’t that mean smart use of your budget?

Think About All the Space You’ll Have
empty bookshelves image by noelliumBut, freeing up time because you no longer deal with shelving and shelf-reading isn’t the only positive when working with an e-heavy collection. Think about the space you’ll open up that teens can use for working on personal devices. Space that you can turn into creation labs so teens can write their own books, create movies, develop games. The image on the right might seem scary, shelves without any materials on them. Look around your library, what if you could take out a majority of the shelving units and use that space more as a learning/information commons instead of as storage and display for books and other materials? What opportunities would that open up? What would you be able to do that you haven’t had the chance to do yet? I bet you have some ideas.

Think About How You Give Teens the Opportunity to Select and Read in Private
I am sure you know a teen that isn’t comfortable with having others know what he or she is reading, and/or know what he or she is seeking out in the library. These are the teens that want materials that their friends might make fun of them for reading. Or, these are the teens that have personal questions that need to be answered, yet don’t feel comfortable asking those questions out loud. A library that is e-focused can serve these teens much more privately because when reading on a device, it is much easier for a teen to keep what he or she is reading, or browsing for via the library e-catalog, completely private. A teen who looks through a library’s e-collection can do so from wherever he or she is. That browsing might take place in a public place or it could take place at home with no one else around. A teen can check out a title from the library’s e-collection without anyone else seeing. And, he or she can read that title without anyone seeing (even if doing that reading in a public place). I think of all those teens who I’ve served in libraries who were embarrassed to be seen with a book on sexuality, or a romance when all of his or her friends were reading fantasy. Those are the teens that will thrive in an e-focused content world.

Think About the Future
Teens in 2011 are used to the physical book, just like most of the adults that they interact with. Because e-books haven’t been a part of teen lives, from the beginning of their lives, it might be difficult, just like it is for adults, for teens to profess a love for e-books. For teens e-books are not yet the norm. While I am all for youth participation and giving teens the opportunity to help move library programs forward, I don’t think that when talking about e-materials – e-books and devices – that teens or adults can speak 100% accurately about what the future will bring.

If we ask teens in 2011 if they prefer e-books or traditional print books, they may very well say traditional print because that’s what they know. But, if we think about teens only one, two, or three years from now, who grow up in a much more e-book centric world, will the answer be likely to be the same? I suggest that it won’t. And, if that’s the case, can we wait to go heavy into e? Shouldn’t we prepare for what’s to come and not focus just on what we’ve got now? If we wait, what’s going to happen? Won’t we be playing catch-up one more time? Why do that again? Instead, go head-long into e. While it’s true, you can’t get everything in this format at the moment, and it’s true that not everyone has the tools for access, now is the time to move towards e as much as possible. Think not just about the barriers. Consider the benefits to the way you can do your job and the benefits to the teens you serve. You’ll be moving towards the future instead of holding yourself, teen services, and teens back from what’s sure to come.

mk says, “But Wait, It’s Not That Simple

Several months into my first year at the high school where I work, my boss told me that another administrator had asked why I was still buying print books. I think I may have involuntarily flinched in response. Because kids are still reading them…?

More books were checked out that year than in the previous three years combined. I don’t think I’m some kind of a collection development genius–there simply weren’t many books purchased in the years leading up to my arrival, and students have clearly responded strongly to the influx of new books, particularly manga. Reading is clearly on the rise here. It’s only mid-April and our circulation numbers this year have already surpassed last year’s. I’ve had more student (and faculty) book requests this year, more student book donations, and more high-volume users–students with more than 10 book checkouts so far, including several with more than 50.

While I think adding e-books to the collection (we don’t currently have any) could improve those circulation numbers–and potentially the culture of reading in the school–I think going e-only could actually be disastrous. Why?

No More Serendipity
For a not insignificant number of students, physical proximity to the books inspires reading. Being part of a display increases the chances that a book will be checked out, and it’s not at all uncommon for a student tagging along on a photocopying run to pick something up and check it out. On a digital device, on the other hand, I can’t see a teen who was initially listening to music or playing a game suddenly thinking, Oh yeah, I can download books, too!

It’s true that digital devices have a plethora of uses, but they simply don’t coexist in space the way books and other library resources coexist in the physical library. Say what you will about virtual bookshelves and displays, but it is primarily teens who are already looking for these digital resources who will find them.

Budget Woes
While it’s true that e-books are highly competitively priced, particularly compared to hardcovers, they require an initial investment in hardware. As I write this, 177 patrons have books on loan. Would I be able to afford 177 e-readers or other devices for library circulation? Absolutely not. Then there’s the cost of memberships or subscriptions that many libraries use to access digital content. I happen to work in a library that does all of its purchasing through purchase orders, so if I want to buy from a vendor that doesn’t take POs–which includes many of the major vendors offering digital book content–the cost is initially coming right out of my pocket until I’m reimbursed.

Then there’s the ease of purchasing. Right now I’d say 95% of my book purchases come from the same vendor. If I switched to ebooks, I’d most likely need to look at a variety of vendors to find e-book versions of all my wanted titles–and, of course, some publishers don’t offer their titles in e-book formats at all.

My Base population Still Prefers Print
Remember those high-volume users? One of them is a student who has checked out more than 100 titles this school year, many of them manga volumes. I know she also reads online–she’s often reading several titles on her phone–but she still checks out armloads of print books. If even the teens who read in digital formats still demand print, why would I eliminate print all together?

The time Isn’t Really “Saved”
Sure, I’m not always in the mood for shelving, and yes, it’s frustrating trying to track down a book that’s been misshelved or walked out of the library. But that’s not the only time I spend with the physical books. Virtually all of my readers advisory (which, in my setting, is exclusively one or two two one interactions) happens walking around the library, picking up a book here and there to hand to a student. I like the ability to be a free range librarian, and I like that students don’t see me as a librarian forever perched behind a desk.

Besides, if we switched to e-books, I have no doubt a good chunk of that time “saved” would merely turn into time troubleshooting the technology, tracking down digital editions of wanted books to purchase, managing e-reader circulation… You get the picture.

What About You?
What about readers of the YALSA Blog? What do you think about the going e debate? Pros, cons, agree, disagree? Post your thoughts and ideas in the comments. We’d love to read them.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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4 Comments

  1. One of my other concerns about investing heavily in ebooks is that you’re not actually buying that content–you’re just leasing it. If a publisher decides they don’t want to offer that title electronically anymore or if you end your contract with OverDrive, all of the ebooks you “bought” are gone and no longer accessible to your users.

    I know there are some libraries that have negotiated in drawing up their contract with OverDrive so that they really do own that content, but once you’ve done that, you have to create your own hosting and delivery system, which is no small task–and certainly not something I’d expect a school library to be able to tackle.

    We provide ebooks to the patrons at my (public) library–and we certainly should, since that’s where publishing is heading–but I remain dissatisfied with our methods for doing so.

  2. Gretchen, I think you bring up a really important point about leasing vs. buying. And, I think that librarians have to figure out the best way to work within the leasing construct. A key I think is to move forward with econtent while at the same time making our needs, and our customer’s needs, known to vendors/publishers so that we can help make change happen. We need to do two things at once deliver econtent and work towards better econtent systems. We just can’t wait until everything is perfect because that’s not going to be serve customers and would probably mean we’d be waiting forever.

  3. I like the concept of “free range librarian”.

  4. I think you both make valid points, but thing I would like to add is that I do not think patrons would expect us to have ereaders for them to check out. I work in a public library and we are just getting ebooks- we are literally starting Overdrive this week- and I think its great. We also have DVDs, music cds and audiobooks available for checkout, but patrons have to have their own devices to use these materials, just as they will with ebooks.

    In my mind, I don’t think that books will ever stop being printed. I think that ebooks and print books will live side-by-side in harmony with one another. The library world has a big influence on publishing companies. Just this week Amazon announced that it will make Kindles compatable with Overdrive. They had to, otherwise people would have stopped buying KIndles, since it would be the only ereader not compatible with Overdrive and free checkouts.

    I think it will be really interesting to see how these two formats play out over the next decade.

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