CLA President Ken Roberts visits McGill

Today Ken Roberts, President of the Canadian Library Association, visited us at SIS, first with a talk at lunchtime, and later for an informal cocktail reception. He is a major advocate of the Sony Reader, and he passed one around so we could all give it a try; I’ve read many reviews of this nifty device, but it was great to finally meet one in the flesh. Here’s why Ken thinks these e-book readers could benefit the library community:

  • committees could use them to share text documents and save paper
  • textbooks could be sold electronically, benefitting students by eliminating the need to carry about numerous heavy volumes, and benefitting publishers by saving money typically lost on small print runs (this is part of the reason that textbooks can be so expensive – publishers are trying to make up their losses from publishing so few of each title)
  • authors who are not well known become available to everyone, even if most physical bookstores would not carry them
  • libraries could buy the readers in bulk and sell them to users at a discounted price – this could be a viable alternative to lending the devices

However, as is often the case when new technology changes traditional business models, the e-book phenomenon does not benefit everyone. Canadian distributors and booksellers lose out when Canadians buy their books directly from the websites of American publishers. Ken is concerned about this situation, which is why he joined a task force to tackle exactly this problem.

I asked Ken whether he preferred the Sony Reader to the Amazon Kindle (which has generated an even greater buzz in the past year and a bit). His reply was that besides the obvious problem of the Kindle not being available in Canada, it also uses proprietary filetypes and forces users to purchase their e-books from Amazon. As a librarian, he said, he prefers the non-proprietary option.

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