The launch of Kindle Unlimited has many questioning the value of public libraries, with one pundit on Forbes even going so far as to proclaim that the U.K. could save money by shuttering all its libraries and replacing them with Kindle Unlimited subscriptions. Luckily for libraries, they’re safe for now because they still beat Kindle Unlimited and its competitors in at least one category: content you want to read. As several reviewers have noted, Kindle Unlimited is stocked almost entirely with indie titles, with a handful of major titles thrown in. Even Scribd and Oyster only have ebooks from two of the five major U.S. publishers, while U.S. public libraries can offer titles from all five. They might be expensive and you might have to get on a waiting list, but as the Wall Street Journal points out, public libraries are safe because they can still offer a better selection. That is true, but I think the WSJ missed a key point: public libraries beat Amazon because they offer services Amazon cannot, including in-person tech support, internet access, and other basic assistance. The fact of the matter is, you can’t use KU, Scribd, or Oyster if you don’t know how to use your device, and your local public library is the best place to learn.
The fact that the public library is an actual place is important. Libraries are not just places to get information. They are sometimes positioned to be social centers of communities, places for those without Internet access to get that access, a quiet place to avoid the hustle and bustle of life, a place to meet friends, a place to hold a meeting, a place to do homework and study, and so on and so on. Libraries have long since been simply a place to get the latest novel or some old classic.
A well run Library is a huge boon for a community both from a social and learning standpoint. God forbid when we finally go ebook only and people stop visiting Libraries. That would be sad indeed.
My library card didn’t cost me a thing to request and I can check out as many books as I can read for free as long as they are returned on time. Heck, I can even check out CD’s, DVDs and puzzles. Public libraries are great sources for local history, in-person social networking, and meetings on how to become more involved in the local community and volunteering.
Libraries were created for the common good. That is why they are free to the public and paid for through taxes. Instead of replacing the library with a corporation like Amazon.com, maybe what is needed, for the common good, is a public library version of something like Amazon. Already many local libraries allow one to check out e-books.
E-readers and public libraries aren’t mutually exclusive. Maybe sometime in the 21st century, there won’t be as many physical libraries, but the public library will still exist through through the checking out of free e-books. There is no reason why libraries and book stores could coexist and not e-libraries and Amazon.