The future of reading
First, Oprah Winfrey signed off on her talk show on May 25. Whether you liked her show or not, her book club brought a kind of "national book club" level of attention to reading that we haven't ever seen any other individuals (or organizations) even aspire to. Prior to her just going out and doing it, I think I would have been skeptical if I'd heard of a plan for a "media personality" to try to do a monthly book club. Bully for her on that count.
Items 2-4... Several weeks ago, Amazon and Overdrive announced an initiative to allow public libraries to circulate eBooks. Then the Digital Public Library of America started to gain some traction right about the time that Amazon released numbers showing that eBooks are now outselling all other book formats.
So maybe--despite Andy Rooney's thoughts to the contrary--this eBook thing might not be a fad after all.
Librarians have a tough choice here, but it's a choice that needs to be made consciously. Either position is intellectually defensible, but the consequences are too important for us to back into a position or to take the path of least resistance:
- We can decide to stick to the medium that has been our métier for all these years, the paper book, in all its beauty, variety, and durability. We can choose to make a stand for our centuries old technology, the technology that has given libraries their reputation for reliability and solid traditionalism.
- The alternative is to decide that the traditional paper book was simply the best tool we had in the past to reach our enduring goal, which in the words of the vision of the Columbus Metropolitan Library is "a thriving community in which wisdom prevails." We can decide that we will embrace these new tools that could also help us get to that goal.
The possibilities that eBooks present will help us evangelize reading and learning in ways we could only have dreamed of a few years ago. Enhanced eBooks such as Nixonland bring together a great story, terrific writing, and video archives to make a much more complete picture of the controversial president. Children's materials that engage several senses without sacrificing imagination will help keep kids curious. And the "Twilight" and "Harry Potter" machines show how teens can be hooked for life when multiple media are brought together.
Now that Oprah has left the building, is there anyone else who can take on what she accomplished with her book club? Maybe it's time that librarians reclaim their role as the leading advocates for reading and learning by embracing and celebrating our new options.
[Note: According to this USA Today article, Oprah says she plans to "develop a show for
books and authors" on her cable network. While it may not have the viewership of her daily show, I give her real credit for continuing the efforts. And if she's looking for a host for this show, how about a telegenic part-time vice president from OCLC? ;-) ]
Vice President, Global and Regional Councils
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