Note: For more details, see a longer FAQ at http://librarycity.org/?p=6933. David Rothman's email is [email protected].
Q. Why a national digital library endowment?
A. U.S. public libraries now spend roughly $1.3 billion a year on books and other content in all formats, around 12 percent of operating expenditures. The figure in the 2010 fiscal year was $1.42 per capita in Mississippi and nationally just $4.22. As reported by the Economist, library sales are approximately 5 percent of those of U.S. book publishers (no wonder the ALA can get only so far in talks with the big publishing conglomerates).
Q. Why should the endowment focus on e-books and other digital content?
A. Costs and greater ease of sharing resources at a national level--while still compensating publishers fairly. Not to mention other possibilities such as reliable interbook links and extensive annotations. Librarians should curate annotations and other user content. The Amazon buyout of Goodreads is an example of the perils of libraries NOT updating their mission.
E-books can efficiently help libraries honor S. R. Ranganathan’s classic Five Laws of Library Science--such as “Books are for use” and “Every reader his book” (or her book). Even academic libraries at well-off universities have limited resources. As for the typical U.S. public library branch, it carries just 4,350 books, a fraction of Amazon's more than 1.7 million, according to the Economist.
The endowment would at least indirectly free up a bit more money for possible spending on paper books at the local level while still responding to readers’ burgeoning interest in e-books.
Q. How would the plan work?