Another Benefit of Ebooks for Libraries

A friend of mine was recently introduced to a certain genre fiction author who has been writing an ongoing series for the past couple of decades. My friend naturally wanted to start this series at the beginning and read it all the way through, in order. So, my friend turned to their local public library.

Ongoing series pose a difficulty for library collections. The earliest titles stop circulating after so many years, or our copies become worn out and damaged beyond repair. As a result, these items get weeded. Sometimes there’s not enough demand to justify restocking an older title. Sometimes we can’t restock them because we can’t afford the physical shelf space to hold them.

Frequently, publishers stop printing older titles from their catalogs, or distributors stop carrying them, which means libraries often can’t replace these titles in our collections even if we see a need for them. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for libraries to have more recent titles in ongoing fiction series on their shelves but not the earliest ones.

(This same issue affects our ability to maintain stock of foundational and classic titles in a variety of genres. I myself have regularly been frustrated by the lack of older science fiction titles in public library collections.)

Typically in these cases, a library is left with no other option than to wait and hope a publisher decides to reissue back-catalog titles.

Typically in these cases, a patron is left with limited options to get their hands on the books they want: they can try to locate copies via interlibrary loan, they might be able to borrow them from a friend, or they can search for used copies to purchase online or in bookstores.

My friend searched the online catalog of their local public library and was delighted to discover they had every title from the series in stock—in electronic format.

This is yet another way that ebooks are game changers for library collections: in a print-only world, back-catalog titles simply disappear from library shelves, never to return. But it’s far cheaper for a publisher to create and distribute an ebook version of an old title than to print and ship new physical copies, so the ROI on these works is once again profitable. Therefore, publishers are increasingly reissuing portions of their back-catalogs as ebooks only.

Which means libraries can once again acquire these titles. We can restock older works that would otherwise disappear from our collections for good. And because ebooks take up no physical shelf space, there’s never a need to weed them to make room for more current titles.

Granted, there’s the whole usurious ebook pricing structure issue between publishers and libraries that must be overcome, as well as the licensing vs. owning debate to resolve, and the challenges of relying on third-party e-content vendors…

But at least we have a viable option to once again acquire and keep older titles in our collections.

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