A recent article by James Surowiecki about paper versus e-books in the New Yorker got me thinking about how people read in London. His main point is that despite the relative failure of Barnes and Nobles’ Nook e-reader, there is still a massive appetite for ‘real’ books in the US. And I think that it’s the same here too; a quick look around most tube and train carriages on a given weekday commute are evidence enough of that.
But what about obtaining books? Now, with the ubiquity of the web, convenience is king. Amazon dominates the book market – in 2011 it had 27 per cent of the market for books in the UK a number that is likely to have increased since then. Amazon’s attractions of are its cheapness and convenience. But for the last six months or so, the company has been pilloried for its rather shameful tax affairs, and a lot of people quite rightly aren’t too keen on using them.
If choice and convenience are paramount, then the London Library Consortium’s catalogue (www.londonlibraries.gov.uk) is a good alternative and with a similar level of convenience, at a much lower ‘price’. The service allows you to search online the pooled book stocks of fifteen of London’s public library services, giving access to just about any title you might want. All you need is to be registered with one of their participating library services (fifteen services isn’t as restricted as you think – you can be registered near where you work, too). Just log in with your library card and PIN (available from your library), and then search by title, author, or keyword. The interface is scarily Amazon-like, in fact; you can populate a wishlist of books for reserving later, as well as viewing your history of loans. It’s not just about paperbacks either. The service offers hardbacks, audio books, large print – and yes – there is even a selection of ebooks to borrow.
But back to book availability. A quick search for two recent titles that everyone seems to be reading right now shows quite a few titles available:
Just click to reserve, then choose the library where you want to collect. You’ll be sent an email when it arrives- usually in a week or so. All this is for a paltry 80 pence.
The beauty of this system is that it supports authors through the public lending right. And you can have a clear conscience knowing that your (small) contribution goes towards supporting your library, and not a company that may not even be registered here in the UK. Libraries have always been the way that we have made books available to everyone. It’s great that we are able to support them so easily even in the online age.