In Defense of eBooks
Library Technician, Los Lunas Public Library
As a library worker, when issuing library cards I always ask patrons if they are interested in eBooks. The most common response is usually along the lines of, “No way, I need a PHYSICAL book to enjoy it!” Well, I have some points of argument against this statement and also against the sometimes vehement rejection of eBooks.
As a life-long booklover, I get it. I really do. There is nothing quite like the feel of a heavy book in your hands, the physical potential of the story held in those pages, the perfect stamp of inked words on thick paper. I especially love old books; their smell (yes, I’m a book sniffer. No shame here!), the thought of how many hands have held the book and how many eyes and minds and hearts have absorbed the story in the book over the decades (or, if you’re lucky, centuries!). I believe that we as readers have a sort of love affair with the physical book – the embodiment of a guaranteed escape from reality held in our hands – and understandably so! But I am not writing this to tell you what we all know – books are great. So, if we all love reading so much, why is it our initial instinct to shy away from eBooks? Do we think that if we read eBooks, we will ultimately force regular print copies to become obsolete? Does reading eBooks make us less of a book lover? I think not, and I’d like to tell you why. And so, let me begin the following arguments in defense of the eBook.
Let me first explain why I believe eBooks are important. We live in the age of technology. There’s just no denying it – it’s evolving at lightning speed. I understand the desire to resist – but why not embrace it? Putting a printed book into a downloadable, lendable, shareable file is, in my opinion, the smartest thing that anyone who cares about preserving the written word can do. What if Fahrenheit 451 became our reality and all of our physical books were torched? Well, we’d still have them hovering above the smoke in the Cloud! (Feel free to argue that if the Cloud went down as well, we’d be totally lost, but I still believe it’s nice to have a backup – and also to back up all your files.) Physical books will not last forever – the pages will be affected by mold, decay, and other forces of nature. But an electronic file is only going to go away if you click “delete.” Secure eBook databases only ensure the longevity of the stories we love so much, and, even more importantly, increase accessibility to books in general.
Occasionally I purchase eBooks from Kindle, but mostly I use my public library’s online eBook library. I can borrow the book, download it in a format of my choice and sync it across all of my devices, all while supporting my public library! Stuck in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, forgot to bring a book AND forgot my Kindle? No worries, I can pull out my smartphone and read a few chapters through my reading app! Stuck studying in the computer lab and need a reading break? No problem, I can just go to the website of my library’s online collection and start reading exactly where I left off. Sometimes we can’t carry large hardcover books with us everywhere we go. Sometimes carrying around even a paperback can be burdensome. But these days, most people always have their smartphones on them, and from my personal experience, it is a true relief knowing that I always have access to my local library at my fingertips. In this day of rapidly developing technology, free or easier internet access is becoming much more widely available. This means that almost anyone, regardless of age or circumstance, can access eBooks for free with just a library card. Amazing!
I must share a recent comment from a friend, who checked out a physical book from the library about a month ago. After 2 renewals, she had made it to page 26 of the book. She is a mother of two children, and any parents reading this know that it is nearly impossible to sit and read a physical book in front of young children, firstly because they want your attention instead, and secondly because the inclination of young children to destroy physical books can be slightly alarming. Well, my friend, having reached her renewal limit, returned the physical book to the library. The next week, she checked out the book via the online eBook library. She finished the book in two days. Two days! The ease of access across several devices, the ability to put down her e-reader at a moment’s notice to tend to her children and other household duties, the convenience of being able to read on her phone while she ate her lunch in the break room; all these factors just made reading easier for her. And you don’t need an eReader device OR a smartphone to enjoy eBooks – utilize the free computers at your local library to access them online. There are also other aspects of eBooks that can make reading easier for many other people. At my library, the Large Print section is not always up to par with what our vision-impaired patrons would like. Cue another perk of eBooks: you can change the font size, font color, and background color to suit your vision preferences on most eReading websites and apps to make your reading experience more enjoyable! Many older patrons are resistant to technology – understandably so – but given the benefits, it is certainly worth it to give eBooks a try.
With all these wonderful perks of eBooks, I believe the reason why most readers shy away from eBooks is the idea that by reading eBooks, they are not supporting the print publishing industry, and fear that the industry will die off if technology takes over. I have read many articles on this subject, and let me just sum it up for you: the answer is no. Around 2008, the new popularity of eBooks had publishers scared out of their wits. In 2011, Borders book store went bankrupt, making their fears all too real. But here we are, in 2017, and as you may have noticed, many bookstores are still up and running and thriving (sorry, Borders). As a public library worker, I can tell you that there is no sign of the print book going out of style anytime soon. I, along with many other readers, have also been known to read a print book and then check out the eBook (and sometimes even the audiobook) of the same title, just to be prepared to continue reading the book in any circumstance, no matter what. The industry of print publishing is doing just fine, a result of many factors including agreements made between some eBook vendors and print publishing companies. I suggest reading this article from the New York Times for some more in-depth information on the logistics of the arrangements between eBook providers and print publishing companies. Please check it out if you are concerned for the fate of print publishing.
As you can tell, I love eBooks. They have changed my reading life. I have been able to read more books more quickly, with less pressure and more ease of access. (My public library’s eBook collection even has an option to sync to my Goodreads account – awesome!) Trust me, I understand your love affair with physical books. I am still not over mine, and I frequently read print books as well. But I think the question that is most pertinent regarding this subject is this: what is more important – our beloved physical books, or providing more widespread and easier access to all books for all people regardless of circumstance? Isn’t that what librarianship and love of books is all about? If eBooks can help increase the availabitlity of a title to a wider audience through a variety of resources, I support that 100%.
So, to readers of all ages, of all genres, of all disciplines, I recommend that you give eBooks a chance. If you feel like you are “cheating” on print copies, read those as well. But eBooks have become an invaluable asset to my reading life, and I think they deserve a defense. In closing I’d like to quote The Freedom to Read Statement, a joint statement by the American Library Assosciation and the Association of American Publishers, and one of my favorite publications of all time. This statement defends our right to read and also the importance of keeping all information available to all people, no matter what: “We here stake out a lofty claim for the value of the written word. We do so because we believe that it is possessed of enormous variety and usefulness, worthy of cherishing and keeping free. We realize that the application of these propositions may mean the dissemination of ideas and manners of expression that are repugnant to many persons. We do not state these propositions in the comfortable belief that what people read is unimportant. We believe rather that what people read is deeply important; that ideas can be dangerous; but that the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society. Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.”