There’s been a lot of talk lately about Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited and what it means for both libraries and publishing. Every time something new happens in the book world — especially when that something has to do with eBooks — someone else is quick to point to it as the “death of libraries.” The purpose of this post is twofold: first, to explain why Kindle Unlimited will make you pay for a service you can probably get for free; and second, to debunk the myth that libraries are on their deathbed.
Kindle Unlimited will make you pay for a service you can probably already get for free. I’m talking about your local public library. Not only can you check out print copies of your favorite classics and the latest bestsellers; most public libraries also offer access to eBooks. The library I work at belongs to a consortium with access to titles through OverDrive, as well as Freading and Axis 360. Yes, Amazon provides instant access to the Kindle Unlimited collection, and yes, there are sometimes waiting lists for more popular library eBooks — but the ones you’d have to wait for probably aren’t available through Kindle Unlimited. An Associated Press review of the service published July 21 said the collection consists of “a few current titles such as “The Hunger Games,” attached to a block-sized bargain bin of obscure stuff mixed with “Robinson Crusoe” and other classics that are in the public domain and available for free online anyway.” None of the Big Five publishers (whose books dominate the bestseller lists) have made any of their titles available through Kindle Unlimited. That’s not surprising, given how tough it was for libraries to negotiate any sort of licensing agreements with them, and the tension between Amazon and publishers throughout Amazon’s dispute with Hachette.
In other words, your local library probably has a better selection of eBook titles than Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Funding for libraries varies from state to state, but most likely you’re already paying for this service through some kind of property tax. (And don’t get me started on how many more awesome things public libraries could do if we got $9.99 per capita in funding.) Amazon may have algorithms that tell you what they think you should read next, but libraries have something better: actual humans. People who will understand that if you like westerns, you might be interested in a history of the Old West, too. People who will ask questions to get a better idea of what type of story you’re looking for, and will therefore make better, more informed recommendations. And you don’t even need to go to the library for this! Many libraries (including ours) offer chat services during business hours, and all will help you find your next great read over the phone.
On to part two of this post: the myth that libraries are dying. Public libraries are not in decline. As Library Journal states, “According to the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Public Libraries in the United States Survey for Fiscal Year 2011 (the most recent data available), in the past ten years, visits to public libraries have increased 23 percent and circulation, 29 percent; program attendance has grown by 32.3 percent since 2004.” That doesn’t sound like an institution that’s fading. We’re focusing more on programs and technology, on being a space for community gatherings and a resource for job seekers, students, entrepreneurs, and the rest of our communities. We provide computers and Internet access to those who can’t afford them, and teach those who’ve never used them how to navigate the digital world. We provide programs that encourage creativity, exploration, and, yes, literacy. Libraries contain books, but they are not exclusively defined by them. They are information and communication hubs. And they aren’t going anywhere.
**Gets off soapbox.**
So, what are your thoughts on Kindle Unlimited and the supposed death of libraries?