Friday, December 13, 2013

Free Library's eBook Kiosk

America's first public library added another first to Philadelphia's history. PlanPhilly reported this week that the Free Library's virtual library at Suburban Station is the nation's first of the kind.

Libraries around the world have been struggling for a while, competing with the internet, the disposable cost of books, and now ebooks. It's a shame, but it's a problem that should have been addressed decades ago. Now that big box bookstores have been rendered irrelevant by ebooks and, libraries are trying to sustain a model that has been lapped by the market's evolution numerous times.

Unfortunately it's tricky. A library's most noted purpose is actually supplemental. It's easy to look at a library as a failing business and say, "it's not making money, people get books elsewhere, just close it." But libraries are neither businesses nor designed to generate revenue. They largely exist as regional archives, banks of information that - believe it or not - is not available online, and museums to posterity. They've never been sustained by late fees, only governments dedicated to that posterity.

In that regard, a library system's main obstacle is public perception. The Free Library of Philadelphia has taken an important step in the right direction with its virtual library kiosk at Suburban Station. It finally ignores decades of failure and charges headfirst into the here and now, offering readers exactly what they're looking for.

In an increasingly virtual world, buildings matter less. Of course Philadelphia's remaining library branches will continue to offer readers physical books and quiet places for research, particularly at it's prominent Logan Square location. But offering readers a free, membership based alternative to downloading ebooks at cost, it reminds readers that libraries exist.

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