Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Digital Summit, which was organized by the New Hampshire Library Association (NHLA). After a warm welcome from NHLA President Lori Fisher and New Hampshire’s ALA Chapter councilor Steve Butzel, I launched into my presentation on everybody’s favorite topic: ebooks (OK maybe that’s a stretch). It was an audience of more than 100 librarians, and I sensed great interest in the topic.
I provided the requisite update on the ALA publisher meetings in New York and related activities. However, the bulk of my remarks focused on my most important insight during these past months: It is fundamentally flawed to view our problem as one between publishers and libraries. Our thinking truly must focus on the publication ecosystem, which includes distributors, authors, retailers, and other entities. Using a narrow framing of the problem during a time when all components of the ecosystem are experiencing challenges to their futures significantly raises the probability that libraries will end up in a disadvantageous position.
Comments during the day contributed to the rich fabric of the discussion. One librarian emphasized the equity of access issue–if libraries cannot provide access, then people with fewer resources will be unable to access important works of our culture. Another librarian focused on the pragmatics of implementation–she works in a library with a large older population base who is not so keen on ebooks.
How to overcome that challenge? Such remarks reinforce the important realization that fundamentally the ebook challenge is not a technological or even economic issue, but one that forces a rethinking of the most fundamental values and goals of libraries.
In addition to participating in this event, I had the opportunity to visit several New Hampshire libraries. The summit was hosted at the Hooksett Public Library, and also I was able to visit the Concord and Peterborough public libraries. In addition, I had the opportunity to visit and receive a tour of the Bellows Falls, Vermont public library, a Carnegie library undergoing extensive renovation. While in Bellows Falls, I talked with Pat and Alan Fowler, the proprietors of Village Square Booksellers, who provided me with an overview of the challenges of being an independent bookseller in a small town.
Even though the primary purpose of this visit was to contribute to the Digital Summit, I learned a lot, which will guide my work across the OITP portfolio. Admittedly, I also enjoyed being amongst very friendly people and charming towns nestled in beautiful countryside.
Director, ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP)
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