Five Reasons to Move That Print Reference Shelf Online

Five Reasons to Move That Print Reference Shelf Online

A first edition of a Charles Dickens novel is expensive, it’s beautiful, and it also contains a timeless story.  A first edition of a 1986 Encyclopedia of Computers is…a pretty neat historical document in 2020, but in 2020, it might be taking up valuable shelf space. Any book, if you wait long enough, can become a “rare book,” but unless your library is specifically building a “Used & Rare Computer Reference” reading room, that 1986 print encyclopedia will have to go—and it will not go alone.

Libraries all over the world go through a robust weeding and re-ordering cycle every few years. New challenges constantly arise that put pressure on the need to maintain print (space, cost, use, etc.). I’m writing today in defense of the idea that you do not need to maintain print. I’m positioning myself to join the chorus of whispers urging you to “move to e!” I’m writing today to say “use that print book budget on eBooks!” And I’m writing today to lay out five reasons why I feel this way. As an eBook vendor, I definitely have a dog in this fight, but if you or your library feels differently—dance back at me! Our DMs are open.

eBooks Take Up Less Space

Library refreshment areaLibraries are community centers. And more and more these days, we hear stories of libraries re-evaluating their use of space in order to most effectively serve and reflect their community. “New couches are needed. And more couches are needed.” “We need to double the number of study carrels,” “What about a small coffee shop by the entrance?” “The students need more private rooms for group study.” “We received a grant for a new computer lab! Not sure where we can possibly put it, but it’s great news, right?!” It is often the physical bookshelves that find themselves the victim of these calls for more room in the library. The simple fact is, books take up space. And publishers keep publishing them. Next year there’ll be more books, not fewer books. And libraries need books. How can a library keep its collection robust while keeping the students and library community comfortable in the physical space? Move that collection online.

eBooks Make for Easier Disaster Planning

Man opening a soaking wet bookEvery library needs a comprehensive disaster plan. This plan will account for what to do in case of…fire? Flooding? What if there is a pandemic and the physical library must stay closed for several weeks or even months? (If this blog post had been written eight months ago, I would not even think of writing “pandemic” because what is this, a sci-fi story? Pandemics won’t ever happen! They happened back in silent movie times, before the world was colorized—not now, not here…) The library must prepare for all disasters, even the ones we leave out of blog posts because they seem too preposterous. Almost any physical disaster will damage your print collection. Any time your library must physically close, your print collection becomes inaccessible. During a pandemic, those print titles must quarantine after they return to the library, to ensure staff safety.  

eBooks require one thing, really: Internet access. And yes, disasters will at times disrupt Internet access for all, but the content you purchased or subscribed to will be undamaged. eBooks will not need to be replaced, dried out, aired out, or quarantined—and once Internet access is restored, they will be there, exactly the same as they were before, fully accessible to all.

eBooks Are Accessible

Child reading eBook on tabletAnd when I say accessible, I mean accessible. Publishers and eBook companies go through great lengths and tremendous effort to make their books accessible not only on multiple devices, but accessible to those with disabilities. That print book ain’t gonna read itself! But that eBook? It will if you click “read aloud.” You might also download the mp3 while you’re at it. And then email it to the person who can’t make it into the physical library.  

As for easy to access? eBooks win that argument as well. You can access eBooks in a dorm. You can access eBooks in a storm. You can access eBooks in a chair, you can access eBooks anywhere!  

eBooks Update; Physical Books Age

Remember that Encyclopedia of Computers from 1986 that was used as an example in the opening paragraph? Now imagine that encyclopedia has a new edition coming in 2021 that has the computer science folks all bouncing on their toes in anticipation.  Reference books are expensive, and as we’ve already learned, an old reference book is not particularly useful unless it’s on a history shelf.  

Replacing or updating eBook editions can be seamless. Credo (an Infobase company), for example, replaces their encyclopedias with the latest edition without even a ripple. The URL remains the same, no need to relink. One day you are reading the old edition, the next day it is the new. No fuss, no mess. If you’d like, you can upload the new free MARC records into your OPAC. But if you don’t have time right away, no worries! The URL in the record will remain the same, and your end users will still find their way to the current edition with just one click.

The end user experience will not change when the new edition arrives, but your staff experience will—as the new eBook will not need to be processed with stickers and stamps. Old volumes won’t need to be boxed or recycled. 

eBooks Are Where It’s At—Literally!

Man trying to cram large hardcover book in back pocket; his other pocket holds a better-fitting tabletMy final point is about how much technology is changing the way we do things: How we learn, how we work, how we entertain ourselves. In a world of wearable technology and a phone in every pocket, with an eBook, a library resource can literally live in the palm of each student’s hand wherever they might be in their world or in their day. eBooks remove barriers to access. They are wherever your students are. At any time of day. And in any format.

Email it. Upload it to Google Drive. Link it. Embed it. Print it out, page by page; bind it and make a print book out of it, if you really really want to. I mean, maybe my last argument is “eBooks are great because if you have enough time and paper, they can be made into print books”…?

So what do you think? Do you agree with the move to “e”? Or would you like to take a stand in defense of print?

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