Your Local Library: It’s Like Netflix For Books

The Kindle on the cover of Newsweek

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t even a little interested in Amazon’s Kindle.

The iPod comparisons are expected, but the differences between how we consume music and books may break the Kindle. For instance, an album usually lasts for about 40 minutes. A 200 page book usually takes something like 3-5 hours for me to read. Because of music’s quicker consumption I understand why someone may want to bring their entire music collection with them wherever they go. But with a book I can’t stand reading more than once at a time.

Most everybody enjoys listening to music, but books are another thing. For a while it looked like people were getting back into reading, but it turns out that it was mostly Harry Potter. Books still have an uphill battle against TV, videogames, and movies.

One incredible competitive advantage that books have against all these other mediums is that in some places you can get books for free. They’re called libraries. You can even get more than one at a time if you want.

Do you read books more than once? I rarely do – only the good ones. With music I might listen to something I didn’t like after a year to see if my opinion has changed. Not so with books. I’d only need a book on hand for reference.

What makes a public library great is that you can borrow a book for a while. Due dates usually last 2 weeks, but you can renew without problems. And since you return the book there’s no clutter in your living space when you’re done.

But libraries aren’t cool. They’re for old people. They’re for awkward, nerdy girls and single women in their 40s with cats. They’re for eggheads. They’re not hip to youth culture like TV, movies, videogames, and music are.

Although, on the web, it doesn’t matter. You know when I go to a library? When my books are in and when I return those books. That’s because the bulk of my interaction with my local library system is on their website. I can request books, create a queue, and check on the status of my requests.

Imagine if libraries thought more like Netflix. What if there was a social network that integrated right with your local library? You could create a queue, maintain a log of the books you’ve already read. You could see what your friends have out and what they’ve requested. Like Netflix, you could view top books by region. You could get recommendations. The discovery process would completely revolve around the reader.

Would you join?

Sure, these things already exist – but they don’t take the step of actually giving you books.

If libraries thought more like Netflix then libraries might be cool. People would like reading again. When people talk about getting a book they’ll use a phrase with a made up word that sounds like “Oh – I Netflixed that.”

As for the Kindle, I love the idea, but not the price tag. Many of the criticisms of the Kindle sound like the same ones that the iPod got when it was first released, but I can’t get all the books I own right now on the Kindle either. I don’t know if it will flop, but $400 for entry to a $9.99 library of DRMed books that I can’t lend to friends, but could also get for free, is a hard sell. It doesn’t solve many problems for me. Getting a new book in a minute is cool, but I’m still reading ones on my queue. I won’t get to it until I finish those.

I think I’ll wait for Kindle 5.0.

5 thoughts on “Your Local Library: It’s Like Netflix For Books”

  1. Many libraries have audiobooks available for “digital checkout,” for free, on the internet.<br/><br/>Example:<br/><br/>I’m surprised you didn’t link me with the whole awkward nerdy girls thing, haha.<br/><br/>But in all seriousness, the places where libraries are most successful are very community oriented and provide a variety of digital and non-digital services for the community (some of which actually inspire people to leave their computers and go to the library for events). These libraries will likely integrate services like what you’ve mentioned into their services to their patrons, and this integration will work right into their community-minded philosophies.<br/><br/>However, you have to keep in mind that due to libraries’ confidentiality policies (everyone’s records are kept private – the recent stuff with the patriot act requiring the surrender of library records only prompted libraries to alter their systems to delete all patron records except for books that are currently checked out) this will probably have to be completely run by patrons – patrons will have to sign up for the service, add all books they are reading themselves, etc. – otherwise it would be in violation of the patron’s right to privacy. Even if the patron signed a document releasing confidentiality of their records, it sort of goes against every library policy I’ve heard of to do something like this.<br/><br/>This is where the services you linked come in (e.g. librarything). I’ve never used any of these myself, but I see that librarything at least has a group option (didn’t bother to check out the other one) – it seems to me that the most effective way to offer the services you described would be to create a community group, advertise the existence of that group from the library’s website and in the library itself, and link directly back to the library’s catalog from that page – perhaps even integrate a textbox to search the catalog or something (again, I’m not sure of the level of customization that would be available because I don’t use these things). <br/><br/>Thoughts?

  2. My library, like the one you linked, has downloadable audiobooks, but since they’re in WMA I can’t use them. I can’t put them on an iPod and can barely play them on my Mac. Linux users can’t play WMA files either. Seems kind of strange that public services use technologies backed by a single corporation…<br/><br/>Regardless of privacy issues, it seems like the main obstacle isn’t the store: it’s the product. For younger generations to get more involved with libraries they need to understand that there are books out there that appeal to them. Right now they just don’t know it.<br/><br/>Public services don’t have the same marketing muscle as retailers. But if people know that they can get something they want from a library it doesn’t matter. I wonder if this has something to do with why some libraries have recent DVD releases.<br/><br/>A user could elect to have their reading history available – that’s exactly the point of Goodreads and Librarything. The actual library doesn’t need to keep a log of what you’ve requested whether on your own or through an intermediary.<br/><br/>Still, I think that if government or anybody skilled enough wanted to get your history from a library they probably could. It’s all in a database somewhere, right? Even if not, it’s all right there on your social networking page if you elected to share that information. You might have books you want to read on an Amazon wish list.<br/><br/>It’s eery, there’s a growing population of people not that interested in privacy. That’s why social networking is popular. That’s why the Kindle has gotten positive and negative buzz.

  3. RE: These Kids Today – A lot of kids today actually still like to read. Studies that I’ve seen (and I’ve just done some research on the subject, so I think I’m accurate on this, but if you have other info please show me) show that kids today are reading as much as they ever were. There is a trend for libraries to actually get more involved with youth services, much more so than when we were kids. They have things like “anime and manga clubs” and “skateboarding clubs” and “battle of the bands” and other such nonsense – things that will get kids into the library and make it a good place where kids want to be. Some places excel in it, and others really slack. Really, it all depends on the person in charge of youth services, and whether or not the community places emphasis on the importance of these services.<br/><br/>RE: Privacy – Yeah, the whole privacy issue is pretty crazy, but I know for a fact that most libraries in the country altered their systems so that all records of books that have been checked out are destroyed as soon as they are returned. <br/><br/>As for changing generational notions of privacy, that’s a topic for another post, I think.

  4. Ahh, you and your facts!<br/><br/>Don’t you see how Anime and Manga clubs don’t really help libraries get cooler?

  5. Haha, I didn’t say that anime and manga clubs made libraries cool – I said it made them places where kids want to be. What I should have said was that it made libraries places where “certain extremely nerdy” kids want to be.

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