Library Moments: On the subject of “real books”

Bessie Sullivan, County Librarian: Hello, I’m Bessie Sullivan from the Haliburton County Public Library and this is Library Moments. Once a week some of us from the library will come and talk about books, upcoming events, or the services we offer at the library.

In Ontario, public libraries have an obligation to collect a wide variety of statistics in order to qualify for the operating grant that comes from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport.

Some of these statistics are collected  all year round while others are collected through one week in November designated as “typical week”.  November 14-19 is our library system’s typical week and we count things like; how many people come through the door, what materials are used in the library and not taken out, and how many phone calls we get.  

When we calculate statistics on materials that are taken out of the library, we factor in both hard copy books, cds, and dvds as well as any electronic borrowing.  To us there is no difference, but that is not true for everyone.

Today on Library Moments Erin Kernohan-Berning and I will talk about some of the controversy surrounding traditional vs. electronic library materials.

Another thing to do with a dead tree. Photo credit: Maksym Kozlenko (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Another thing you can do with a dead tree.
Photo credit: Maksym Kozlenko [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Erin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: Stephen Fry once said something to the effect of “books are no more threatened by ebooks than stairs by elevators.” And it’s true really. Quote-unquote “real books” are still seeing robust sales, while the ebook market has leveled off after it exploded onto the scene. Yet for some reason, people are still lamenting the death of the book – and by book they mean the ones made up of dead trees. But there are some fairly serious issues with attaching the moral imperative of reading to the format of what you are reading. While you might favour the experience of reading a traditional print book – the weight of the volume, the act of turning pages – for someone else that traditional format may prevent them from reading at all. Someone with a visual impairment may have discovered that ebooks, with their backlit screens and adjustable font size, have completely changed their ability to read. Audiobooks take the visual right out of the equation, allowing us to read with our ears rather than our eyes. Someone who cannot leave their house can enjoy ebooks from home, without the need to rely on another person to choose and deliver their reading materials. By lamenting the existence of other formats, we aren’t lamenting the death of the book, we are lamenting the ability of others to read who may have been prevented from doing so if the only choice was print.

I read pretty much every which way I can. I too enjoy my dead tree editions and the alchemy of that old book smell – even though I know that’s just mold (correction from Erin – while we do see our share of smelly, moldy books, there is more to it. See What Causes Old Book Smell). But, as one can use either an elevator or stairs, I am a regular consumer of ebooks and audiobooks. Some authors are even choosing to only publish in ebook format because they write in a style that is difficult to publish conventionally – allowing the art form of the written word to expand and evolve. Whatever your preference, you can find ebooks, audiobooks, books on cd, and yes, print through our library catalogue. If you find the title you like, but not the format you prefer, just get in touch and request it – if it’s available we very often can get it. So when you are enjoying your particular format, whether it’s dead trees, pixels, or soundwaves, just remember that reading is for everyone no matter how we do it.

Bessie Sullivan, County Librarian: The Library has access to ebooks to lend in two different ways; we have a membership to the province’s shared collection on the Overdrive platform, and we are also able to purchase titles that are in high demand for our readers here in the county that no-one else in the province can borrow.

In the last six months we have enabled a feature on our online catalogue that shows all the e-books in the provincial shared collection as well as our own print collection.  This is a good thing in the sense that it shows you as the consumer all the products you can borrow through us.  There are some downsides though.  At first glance it appears that the Haliburton County Public Library buys way more e-books than print books.  We don’t actually buy many ebooks at all but because we pay a membership fee to the shared collection, we show tens of thousands of downloadable products on our database.  If you are a person who only reads print this can be daunting. Don’t despair; there are ways to search by format type. This goes both ways though, if you are a person who doesn’t want to support the killing of trees, you can search e-books only as well.

If you aren’t sure how to isolate searches or have any questions about our collections or anything else, you can call any branch of the library or ask the staff when you come in.  If you call or visit this week, the activity will be captured in our statistics and sent to the Ministry and this is yet one more way that you can help us.

That’s it for this week’s Library Moments, thank you for listening here on 100.9 CANOE FM.

*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM November 13-19, 2016.


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