Bold predictions are often wrong, but they do tell us where people “think” things are going. Recently, we have read and heard much about eBooks and their use on digital devices, such as tablets and smartphones. This has led to discussion about the impact of technology on the use of public libraries.
According to a BBC report, eBooks will outsell print books by the year 2018. Others, however, feel that the growth in eBook sales will soon begin to decline worldwide as it already has begun to do in the United States.
It is interesting to note that the number of eBooks borrowed from the Shaker Library grew annually by 38% in 2009 (the first year we included the statistics with our traditional figures), 43% in 2010, 66% in 2011, and reached a peak of 71% in 2012. The growth rate fell to 41% in 2013 and we are at a 33% pace year-to-date through June 2014.
The bottom line is that even double-digit growth in eBook circulation from such small beginnings—we did not exceed 10,000 checkouts until 2011—has not really made an impact upon our overall numbers. So far in 2014, eBooks make up less than 4% of all items checked out. A random survey of some similar-sized public libraries in Ohio show no more than a 4% to 8% share of total circulation for downloadable material.
Part of the problem is the limitation on eBook access placed upon libraries by the publishing industry. Some materials are either not available to public libraries or have been priced out of the library market. And even the eBooks that libraries offer can be difficult to download because of copyright restrictions and vendor imposed “hoops” (as with Amazon Kindle material).
In our community, we have some who can afford their devices of choice and find it faster and more convenient to buy whatever they want rather than to struggle borrowing from the library or putting their names on a waiting list. At the other end of the spectrum, we have those who might not be able to purchase devices and who might be more interested in audio/visual entertainment they can access via cable TV or Redbox machine.
Another prediction says that by the year 2018 the viewing of TV programs and videos will account for 84 percent of Internet traffic with a volume that is two to three times higher than in 2013. Internet video already accounts for 78% of online use (and includes such things as on-demand movies via cable).
A third prediction says that online access via PC will drop from the 86% level of 2013 to 50% in 2018. 21% of the traffic will be through smartphones and 18% from tablets, up from 5% and 3%, respectively, last year! Is it any wonder, then, that overall circulation at public libraries continues to drop? Among libraries of similar size in Ohio, virtually all are seeing circulation decline in the range of 6% to 12% over last year. A few libraries may have modest increases, but that is due to an old building being reopened or a new location coming online this year.
In most cases, door counts have gone hand-in-hand with circulation loss, but at Shaker Library we continue to see increased computer use. Main Library is 14% ahead of 2013 YTD and Bertram Woods, even with 23% less hours available, is almost 1% ahead, for a combined 12% increase. We are living in a changing world and it will be interesting to track the progression of that change over the next several months and years!