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Libraries Face Electronic Future

Central Ohio libraries have dealt with a lot of change over the last couple decades. Now they face perhaps the biggest change – the possible replacement of printed books with electronic ones. Librarians and publishers are trying to cope with this new computer revolution. Etched in the granite wall outside the Columbus Metropolitan Library downtown are the words, "My treasures lie within." Those "treasures" refer to books, the printed page. Today, those treasures can be anything from books to books on tape to DVs and computers. But the latest advance in technology could be the most revolutionary of all. E-books and E-readers are changing libraries relationships with publishers, distributors and readers. While this phenomenon is taking place, it's not as though someone flipped a switch on a light and all books went away Patrick Losinski is the executive director of The Columbus Metropolitan Library. He says the strength of the library is still in books. The system circulates up to 17 million books and other physical items a year. But last year it circulated a quarter of a million e-books. "I think it's an ongoing evolution. Some might sit say it's a revolution. But pretty clearly e-books, they're here to stay." The question is how quickly the revolution will take place. Publishers are trying to figure out how to work with libraries. Earlier this spring, book publisher HarperCollins sparked a national debate and something of the firestorm when it placed lending limit on it's e-books. Libraries could lend an e-book 26 times, but then they have to buy it again, at a reduced price. HarperCollins did not return phone calls but in an open letter to librarians, the company's president of sales, Josh Marwell, wrote that lending unlimited e-books to libraries would lead to a decrease in book sales, hurting publishers, writers and readers. On the company's blog "Library Love Fest," librarians were quick to accuse HarperCollins of greed. Some promised to boycott the company's books. Robin Nesbitt directs Technical Services at the Columbus Library. Her department buys books and readies them for the shelf. She thinks a solution is possible but says libraries and publishers need to get out in front of the issue. "Rather than try to control it maybe you need to figure out how to work with it and dream up new models ... and that has 'em scared." HarperCollins has walked back the decision somewhat saying 26 may not be the right number. But it says there has to be a limit. And library director Losinski agrees. He says in theory, the Library of Congress could buy one copy of a book and everyone could borrow it electronically but no publisher or author can make money that way. "So we have to find a win-win. How do we get access for our customers? How do we make sure that the economics still work for publishers and authors?" The Cleveland-based firm OverDrive is a distributor of electronic books and audio. It's one of the largest providers of electronic-based materials in the world, says marketing director David Burleigh. "We do continue to work both with libraries and publishers to come up with models that will work for everyone." Everyone agrees ... publishers, distributors and libraries that eventually a new model will be found ... they just don't yet know what it will be.