How the Library can survive and Thrive.

Tom and I were in LA for Adobe MAX a few weeks ago. On our last day before heading to LAX, we walked around the LA Public Library. It’s a cool ass building, I gotta say. Massive pillars, cool art, immense open space. I hadn’t been in a library in a long time, it’s nice to be surrounded by books, and people who like them.

As always we started talking about technology, and in particular eBooks, and eReaders, and how the library of tomorrow won’t look like the one we were walking through.

Here’s the idea we came up with, looking at the crowd of people in the library.

Offer a Kindle (or a Nook, or whatever) to each library member. Of course they’d need to be subsidized somehow, and you could probably get away with charging something super small, $20 maybe? Just to put a value on it to holders. It’s Library property, so you could also enforce some “Lose it, buy it” deal, and give the $20 back if it’s returned in working order. Otherwise it’s a lifetime deal like a library card.

Of course it’s not a Kindle like you’d get on Amazon. It’s a library device. It’s useful to read content you’ve checked out of the library. Sort of like the way the Nook knows when you’re in a B&N, the Library Kindle would know you’re in the library. You’d browse the available titles, check out whatever the limit is, etc. following whatever rules exist. You wouldn’t be buying anything, nothing permanent would reside on the device.

The book would transfer to your device, with the appropriate DRM to enforce the check out period (as already exists and is in use at libraries), the patron would go home, and have a book to read on an eReader.

There wouldn’t be 3G, and you couldn’t connect to other Wifi hot spots. The connection is only for the Library. Outside the Library it’s an unconnected eBook reader, which all a library patron would need it to be.

Sidenote (You could get really jiggy, and allow patrons to have an account on the library server, to collect annotations, etc. That way you could make notes on the book you’ve checked out, and they wouldn’t go away when you checked the book back in, but you might have to check the book back out to read them? I dunno, it just popped into my head.)

As far as funding goes, well it doesn’t cost Amazon $259 to build the Kindle, so they could easily give libraries a massive price break on bulk orders. Additionally, what company wouldn’t want, say a screen saver image as advertising on each device? Sell a few (there’s no limit really) ads (600×800 images) that are displayed when the device is sleeping, to offset the cost of the device. That’s a lot of eyeballs on each ad, if you think of how many patrons your typical metro library has.

Once the devices are in the library (assuming someone like Amazon, etc builds the custom OS) the ownership is easy. Charge the devices in a closet somewhere. When someone signs up, give them the device, the charger, and an instruction manual. Heck charging could even be something only offered at the library, since without a wireless connection Kindles last about 2 weeks. But either way, there’s not much overhead in managing the Devices. Repair/replacement would obviously be thru the vendor, just like with library workstations.

The OS is simple (The existing Kindle OS ain’t exactly MacOS) so there’s little to no learning curve, you wouldn’t need to have full time support staff, etc either. Whatever existing staff, would easily handle issues, since worst case, it’s swap out the device, and RMA the bad one.

I think as libraries become more aware of the sun set approaching them, the smart ones, will get on board with this idea. The smart company (Amazon, Sony, B&N) will jump on the idea too and secure the market before anyone else sees the market forming.

This idea free to whomever can make it work, I want to see our libraries thrive in the future, and I want to see reading supported!

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By John Wilker

I'm a science fiction writer and conference organizer. In 2017 I published my first book, 'Space Rogues', a fun Sci-Fi adventure with a fun cast of characters. I'm also the co-founder of 360|Conferences, a conference and event logistics consulting company.

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