I am not sure if you saw the great article in Fortune entitled, “Amazon vs. your public library” written by Verne Kopytoff on July 22, 2013. See http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2013/07/22/amazon-9/ for more information.
The article highlights the fact that the public library may be a worthy competitor of Amazon in the digital book arena as people can borrow e books for free instead of paying for them. The public library would be joining Google and Apple to challenge Amazon’s digital book dominance.
The article stresses a key point in that libraries have coexisted just fine with print booksellers for many years. Would not the library be able to function well in the digital era, coexisting with e book vendors? I believe so. The reason is that the library has shown itself to be adaptable to technological innovations and has learned how to handle the demand for e books. This trend should continue into the future with librarians continually learning new technologies in order to serve their patrons.
The real question of course is whether the same private company that created the new technology (or became the dominant distributor of the new technology) will continually create new technological innovations or oversee their distribution. One example that comes to mind is Blockbuster. Many of will recall that the company was the dominant player in the VHS tape rental business (and later the DVD rental business) during the 1990s and early 2000s. For years it seemed as if the place to go to rent a movie was Blockbuster. During this same time the public library was also facilitating the borrowing of VHS/DVDs. Eventually Blockbuster was forced to compete with a different business model created by Netflix, whereby viewers could choose their movie online from a wider selection and then mail back the movie when they were finished. The days of Blockbuster have come and gone. As we shall see the models of information provision, established by private businesses, are subject to change and competition. While private companies come and go, the library has always been able to adapt to these changes and to stand its ground.
In regards to e-books, the article notes that, “Just over three-quarters of libraries lend e-books, according to a survey last fall by the American Library Association. Even people who do not own an e-reader can often check them out from their local branch. Nearly 40% of libraries let patrons borrow Kindles, Nooks, or other similar devices, the survey found.”
Christopher Platt, director of the joint technology team for the New York and Brooklyn public libraries, stated that “Digital is not a boutique service. It’s part of the future of the library.”
Of course, as the article has mentioned, libraries have been limited by publishers in their efforts to lend e-books. Until earlier this year several major publishers refused to sell to libraries at all. The current situation is a slight improvement. As stated in the article, “Some major publishers jack up the price libraries pay for e-books compared to what they charge the public. Others make only a small number of titles available, delay their availability until weeks after the general release, or require libraries to buy another copy after lending it 26 times.”