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Android Tablets Will Power Libraries Of The Near Future

Libraries are a strong symbol of community, making knowledge available to everyone and anyone at a cost shared by all. The library of today faces a number of interesting challenges, not least the impact of techology on the publishing industry.

Last week Amazon announced that eBooks outsell print books by a significant margin in its web store. It was also announced that the rights holders of a number of classic works have disenfranchised their publishers and signed contracts directly with Amazon to distribute those works electronically. And of course we have any number of authors completely bypassing the printed word to self-distribute their work via the internet.

How are libraries going to keep up when a greater and greater proportion of published work never reaches the printed page? By embracing technology, that's how.

Library managers need to start being clever about embracing technology though. The e-ink revolution has stalled and with fewer and fewer ebook readers being announced I suspect that the technology has failed to gain the required traction in the marketplace.

Instead people are buying and reading ebooks on their phones, computers and iPads. The latter is an important marker in the move from paper to electronic as the commonest way of consuming the written word. Its bright colour screen makes the ebook come alive in a way that slow, mono e-ink based readers never managed. Some books have come alive in iPad format in a way that printed pages never managed either. In many ways the eBooks on the iPad are a slightly updated take on what Dorling-Kindersly were doing 15 years ago with CD-ROM distribution of interactive books.

All very good in itself, but the iPad is a hugely expensive tool which makes it inappropriate for use in libraries. Never mind that the nature of its tie into iTunes makes sharing such a device technically challenging. To provide lending based on the iPad would benefit only those who can already afford the purchase of such a device - which very much goes against the grain for a library service.

Things are starting to look better though, as household names start to enter the tablet market with Android devices. And whilst some are likely to be as expensive as the iPad others from less well known names are already hitting the sort of price points which not only make a lending service viable for libraries, it make them inevitable. A colour screen eBook reader for the price of four or five hardback fiction novels? The economies work themselves out very quickly.

And the technical issue? Android's mass storage support means that sharing such a device is no more complex than passing around a USB stick or DVD. As soon as the libraries agree a content management system which works for both themselves and the copyright owners we should be entering a whole new era in public service lending.

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