You won’t believe what the Wall Street Journal is saying about the relevancy of libraries…

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… that libraries are obsolete? That the Internet is going to kill books? Or that public libraries are sooo 20th Century?


Can you believe it? In a sudden about-face, the mainstream media is pushing a totally different idea than what we have seen in the last 10 years. You know, that old drivel about how Kindle is going to replace physical books, or that libraries are behind-the-times, or even that public libraries should be closed and Kindle subscriptions given away to all U.S. Citizens.

Anybody who has stepped into a public library in the last year or two will recognize these ideas to be the real antiquated ones. As my previous Backpacking Librarian posts have discovered, public libraries are not only central to the communities that they serve, but also early adopters of new and emerging technologies that bring new types of  learning to our youth and communities. Public libraries digitize rare books so that people from around the world can visit their websites and access materials instead of having to buy a plane ticket or buy an expensive copy (if one can even be found). They also create new content by sharing stories and archiving local history.

But now it seems that public libraries may be beating Amazon Kindle, Scribd and Oyster at the eBook game. In Geoffrey Fowler’s opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal this week, he compared the availability of fairly common titles between Kindle, Scribd, Oyster and two public libraries (San Francisco Public Library and Richland County, S.C. library). Fowler used lists such as Stephen King’s top 10 favorite books and Kindle’s annual top 20 best-selling titles. What he found was astounding: the public libraries nearly always held more eBook titles on the list than the eBook sellers. I would like to emphasize that the comparison was only in the Ebooks¬†that the libraries held, not physical holdings. So the bottom line is that public libraries carry a wonderfully more readable set of ebooks than the ebook vendors themselves.

Fowler’s recommendation:

Go sign up for a public library card instead. More than 90% of American public libraries have amassed e-book collections you can read on your iPad, and often even on a Kindle. Though you still have to deal with due dates, hold lists and occasionally clumsy software, libraries, at least for now, have one killer feature that the others don’t: e-books you actually want to read.

Will libraries be able to stay one step ahead of Amazon and other eBook providers and keep a healthy lead on eBook provisioning? Only the future will tell.

See more at the WSJ…


Mickel is an MLIS and the creator of Library Currents. His inspiration for the blog was the SJSU course "The Hyperlinked Library" taught by Dr. Michael Stephens, a course that is also a worldwide MOOC. If you wish to contact him, feel free to write to Mickel Paris at

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