Is an iLibrary in Your Future?

I just received a request from a state agency for audio books. After spending some frustrating minutes with our Overdrive collection I had this idea:

Has anyone ever heard of Apple licensing their iTunes store software? I think that iTunes would be the perfect platform for libraries to use to provide access to their digital music, video, podcasts, courseware, games, and audio books.

Libraries have been stricken by massive inside-the-box thinking. The library model has always been that (1) access needs to be provided through an online catalog; (2) that materials should be provided for free; and (3) that library customers should borrow and return items.

What if, instead of the typical esoteric catalog interface, libraries could offer multimedia content through a city or county library branded version of the iTunes store? It’s SO easy to find and download content through Apple’s iTunes store compared to trying to get any multimedia online from any library site.

Instead of only supporting borrowing and returning, what if libraries were to offer content through micro-purchases like Apple does?

My wife and I love our local Salt Lake County library branch. At the same time we are extremely frustrated that it either lacks what we’re looking for (that’s me) or if they do have it, it’s checked out (that’s my wife). She’s been put on waiting lists that often last for weeks. I can only imagine the pain and frustration felt by customers of rural libraries. Libraries, IMHO, are locked into a dumb business model that ignores lofty customer expectations (‘I want everything and I want it immediately’). To quote my favorite character in Groundhog Day, “Am I right, or am I right?”

iTunes is intuitive for users. Customers would have immediate access to everything in the library. Customers would have access to content as long as they wanted. Vendors could provide content either with Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) or without it (as Apple itself will be doing starting this April). Fees could be adjusted to cover library costs and still remain competitive in the market place. Libraries could provide a fuller range of historical and research materials and government documents than are typically found in online stores. Librarians could spend more time selecting content and building collections and less time processing. iTunes also might provide a perfect medium for offering access to materials for the blind such as podcasts, streaming radio programming, and talking books. It would save libraries oodles of processing and support costs (fewer ILS systems administrators, web mavens recreating online wheels, and shelvers restocking materials).

I think there is a whole range of possible cost-saving and service benefits.

Apple, Inc. are you listening? ┬áLet’s deal.

Published by

Ray Matthews

Government Documents and Digital Library Services Coordinator, Utah State Library

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