Lending ebooks first came to the Nook and now available for select books on Kindles, which makes me wonder if we could all become giant P2P libraries in the near future. Something that could make public libraries either scream in panic or giggle with glee, depending on whether you see this as a powerful tool or a threat.
Let’s call it a tool.
Let’s call it probably one of the greatest boons to reading since Andrew Carnegie started funding libraries in the first place. Why? Because I think if eReader apps see the potential in encouraging people to share the books they have and work together (the horror, I know) help libraries build a solid, simple system to lend books from their catalogs, then being able to share and create your own library will become a powerful tool for learning and research.
First, I don’t think that individuals can ever replace libraries as a source of books, but I think individuals can help spread books and serve as carriers for others to make the public library system even stronger. Think of it like this…
When Napster was born, it changed the music industry forever because suddenly your potential music library exploded to near infinity. Now, what if there was a Napster for public libraries?
What if when I borrowed a book it would help make distribution easier for other people to borrow the same book?
Yes, yes I know licensing issues and such. But let’s think transmission here. The Vancouver public library might be “out of copies” of a book, but maybe it’s in another library. So what about a virtual Inter Library Loan? What about seeing if there was someone who had also checked out that book and instead of making the other library’s servers deliver the book, you could have the same book just delivered from another borrower. Keep the number of books in circulation the same, just deliver from a closer peer instead of a central library.
If eReaders can already keep track of who is lending what to whom and for how long, on an individual level and delivering it to any device…well with the right framework so can libraries.
Once the framework is in place, then you could add other books from your own library into the mix to allow other people to borrow through the same system. So then we tap into not just the number of copies a public library system has, but private ones as well. Yeah waiting to read a book might become a thing of the past. Since you get what you give, buying and borrowing books would be encouraged. Yes there is a risk of people just not buying books, but this isn’t like Napster where you kept the music, you’re only borrowing the book. You still have to give it back (well it would be taken back) and if you really liked it, you can borrow it again (probably from someone else) or just buy it (and then when you’re done lend it out).
Just like the days when having a large personal library of books was a treasured lifetime achievement (at least it is for me), having lots of books to lend could become a powerful status within a community of readers. Couple with a system of being able to share annotations and notes in books you borrow/lend…suddenly we have a world-wide, curated library that leverages technology and sharing.
All from being able to share books with each other, through the library.
Originally published on the Future Shop Tech Blog.