‘E-book revolution’ hits New Haven

The New Haven Free Public Library is boosting its e-book collection, but as a result, its print collection will likely stagnate.
The New Haven Free Public Library is boosting its e-book collection, but as a result, its print collection will likely stagnate. Photo by Victor Kang.

In order to shake off the image of a center for “dusty old books,” the New Haven Free Public Library is working to boost its under used electronic offerings, but it may be at the expense of its print collection.

The library’s cache of e-books, electronic copies of books that can be viewed on computers or devices like the Kindle, has grown four times as large since the NHFPL adopted its current electronic book system, called Overdrive, in November 2010. Budget constraints, though, will not allow the library to continue enriching both its electronic and print collections.

Although Acquisitions and Collections Development Manager Rachael Sherwood said she predicts that the print collection will not suffer and that a worst-case scenario would see a decline in e-book purchases, the library’s plans ultimately depend on what the patrons want.

“[The e-book system] helps people see the library as a center for new technology and all types of learning — not just dusty old books,” said Angelina Carnevale, the NHFPL’s youth librarian. “You get a lot of people who get an e-reader as a gift and come in when they need help using it — people who haven’t been to the library in years.”

The decision to ratchet up e-book purchases last year sprang from comparisons with other libraries and a need for modernization, Sherwood said.

“You want to keep up with the times. You want the library to be relevant,” she said.

Patrons are gradually beginning to use the e-book system, Sherwood said, but the collection was slow to catch on with the public. This problem is not unique to the NHFPL, according to Yale Bookstore General Manager Joseph King. In spite of the popularity of electronic devices like Nooks and Kindles, King said, students are still using more print textbooks than electronic ones.

“Book rentals [still] capture the imagination more than the e-books,” he said.

Although advertising the e-books is a concern, the main logisitcal issue for the library is allocating its budget between print and electronic content, Sherwood said.

“It’s a big juggling act”, she said, “it’s hard because we don’t want to erode our print collection.”

In the case of a budget crunch, Sherwood said, the Library would probably slow its e-book expansion. Sherwood and Carnevale, however, both said they are optimistic about the future of both their print and electronic collections.

“I think electronics and paper books can complement each other and coexist,” Carnevale said.

Sherwood said she has faith in the publishers, explaining that she believes they will eventually devise a way to make the e-books more affordable for public libraries. Consumers, however, bear the greatest responsibility for the future of e-books.

“Our decisions depend on the publishers, but the publishers’ decisions depend on the consumers,” NHFPL tech assistant Vasean Daniels said.

The Yale University Library is undergoing a similar e-book purchasing process with the adoption of a new system for academic resources called Project Muse, according to Associate Director of Collection Development Gregory Eow. The Yale library is seeing an increasing demand for e-books, he added, but it remains to be seen if electronic sources will one day overtake their print counterparts.

“All of our decisions are based on evidence. If faculty and students need print, we’ll give them print, if they need e, we’ll give them e”.

The Yale Library officially launched its e-book strategic plan task-force on Monday to assess the market and make recommendations for how to “best address the e-book revolution,” Eow said.

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