It’s a changing materials landscape out there, and it just ain’t gonna change back to what it was.
And if anything, the change is just going to accelerate – especially for the audio-visual parts of our collections.
Circulation of physical materials is down overall, and circulation of e-materials is up (especially those wonderful, and wonderfully expensive, e-audiobooks). The PLDS report lays out that change pretty succinctly – as do the circulation reports for my own library, and almost undoubtedly for yours, too.
An almost certain accelerant to this change is the decision by retailers to cut physical copies of CDs from their floors. Earlier this year, BestBuy, one of the leading music retailers, declared they’d cut CDs out completely, with Target allegedly going along with them for the ride. This has since been walked back a bit, but the trend is clear, and my money is on it happening sooner rather than later. Bricks and mortar retailers are pressed enough as it is; they can’t allow anything that doesn’t pull a profit onto their floors.
This will undoubtedly lead to a trickle up effect on CD producers; having a major retailer (or two?) stop selling their product is going to have a definite dampening effect on their production of said product. Basically, this will just hasten producers’ migration to streaming their product instead.
And, oh, you know what else? The thought makes me shudder, but DVDs will be the next physical format to go. Not as soon as CDs, but it will be soon. There are already TV series produced by streaming services where no DVDs are being produced at all for libraries to buy (e.g., Transparent, GLOW).
So where does this leave libraries? Without physical objects to circ, what do we do? Who ARE we?
Honestly, I think we’ve been pretty proactive in getting non-physical format alternatives for our patrons. OverDrive, Hoopla, Kanopy, Freegal. These are some pretty awesome resources.
There are still issues.
First and foremost: Do our patrons know we even have these kinds of resources? That they can use for FREE? Sadly for us – and them! – probably not. The infamous 2012 Pew study showed that few of our patrons know that we even lend ebooks, and a 2016 study, also by Pew, showed much the same.
What’s more, in the non-scientific but totally relatable realm: if your experience is anything like mine, you’ve actually schooled people – your friends! your family! intelligent, educated people! – on what the library has for them to access electronically, to their utter amazement and eternal gratitude. (Quick, someone tell Panos Mourdoukoutas.)
Secondly, in a more collections-focused vein: some of the content still, well, not to put too fine of a point on it, sucks. Or at least it certainly does when it comes to video content. Right now there is no real product for libraries to purchase for their patrons that has the kinds of movies and TV offerings that Netflix, Hulu, and amazon do. Even in the audio realm, there are audible.com e-audio titles that we literally cannot get in physical OR streaming form that our patrons really, REALLY want us to have – and which they really, really can’t understand why we can’t do that. (Side note: explaining the intricacies of licensing agreements and audio rights to patrons is never, ever, a fun time.)
Another collections-focused issue is that many of these products come with per-use licenses. Budgeting for per-use products is almost impossible. Make one mistake on where to throttle content and either you annoy your patrons (the ones that actually know about the content and want to use it!) or, even worse, break the budget. It can be a terrifying line to walk.
So, what can we libraries do? To keep our relevance, to keep our patrons, to keep our FUNDING, in this time of patrons who embody an attitude of “if I can’t get it in under three clicks, without ever putting on pants or leaving my house, I’ll just get something else”? (BTW? Full disclosure: I am TOTALLY that guy. I understand lazy consumers because I am one.)
Well, we have to promote, promote, promote to our patrons and to our potential patrons. Work with your suppliers. They ALL have free marketing materials that they WANT to share with you. You do NOT need to reinvent the wheel. (OverDrive is like king of this; they have all kinds of ideas, including a new push to issue temporary library cards so that people can use their resources immediately.) Ask them what they have. Ask them what they can do to help you. Ask them what other libraries comparable to yours have done/are planning on doing.
Also, and this is certainly less fun than thinking up fun new places to market your resources, we have to work, work, work with our suppliers on getting better (yet still affordable!) content AND on devising more sustainable, less risky-to-the-budget, licensing models. This is going to be a process, and a long process at that. But to serve our patrons what they want to be served, where and when they want to be served it, it’s a process that we need to undertake.
So that’s what I think. Tell me. What do YOU think?