Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Serving the Digital Generation" While Preserving our Libraries

It has officially been one week since Comic-con ended but it most definitely doesn't feel like it.

The whole experience was amazing and you can read a kind of overview on kotaku here. I want to write about the weekend, but it's going to take several posts, two of which are going to be interviews I had with pretty awesome people. But today, I want to write about the fact that I'm currently reading Archie and Friends on my iPod.

I'm putting the Archie thing aside because really that's a post in and of itself. What I want to talk about here is the digital generation, and the fact that I don't want to be a part of it when it comes to my reading habits...except when I do. Interestingly enough, I learned this in a panel about libraries.

Let's talk about libraries for a second. I love libraries. I would not have been such an avid reader when I was a kid without libraries. And I love that ultimately, Comic-con is for people who love to read, because it makes me feel like I'm among my people. Come to think of it, it's not really surprising that video games aren't as prevalent at Comic-con as one would expect. Because Comic-con is for readers and lovers of all things Nerd/geek culture.

That's not to say that video games don't have their place at Comic-con because obviously they do, and I would love to talk about the fantastic storytelling medium that video games have always been and continue to be... but again, that's another post.

Libraries are starting to integrate technology more and more, both in how they catalogue their collections, and in the actual contents of said collections. Increasingly, this has included video games, but more relevant to the topic is digital books. The thing that scares me the most is this digitization of previously print forms, because I love books. I love collecting them, stacking them, organizing them and obviously, most of all, reading them. It feels so satisfying to close a book after reading it through, and to put it back on the shelf or pass it on to friends. That's something that digital and audiobooks will never be able to replace.

On the other hand, as the panel went on from the history of digital comics to the present day, the presenters, David Lisa and Michael Maziekien, began talking about comixology and other sites like it. Comics in digital form--who'd have thunk it (as you can see, based on the powerpoint that Lisa and Maziekien showed us, a lot of very important people have been thinking it for decades.)? At a convention that devoted hundreds of square feet to physical comics new and old, here were two men describing how libraries could make comics more accessible by subscribing to online services, keeping everything safely on a screen.

And then, just in case anyone wasn't yet convinced, they announced the Kindle Fire.

Nerds love their comics. But we also love our numbers, and the numbers don't lie. Last year, 66% of the country's libraries offered access to eBooks. Since then, graphic novel circulation has gone down 20%, and circulation of digital comics has gone up 1000% (facts shared with us during the presentation). With numbers like that in an economy like this, where my hometown library has had a hiring freeze for three years and has been cutting back on their hours, I can't really turn away from ebooks any longer.

Now, I can't speak towards what this all means for publishers. Amazon is, after all, attempting to cut out the middle man. And now Barnes and Noble is pulling DC titles from their shelves because of the comic company's exclusive deal with Amazon. After Borders closed its doors this summer, it's a risky move to pull any titles from any shelves, let alone an entire publishing company's worth, but if the Nook can't have Superman, then neither can the literal comics nook at B&N.

Maybe if Amazon and the dwindling number of bookstores start getting picky about what titles they're going to carry, we as readers will be forced back into the arms of our local libraries. Or maybe everything will go digital and libraries and bookstores will cease to exist. Though I don't think that's very likely.

I'm hoping that devices like the Fire make it easier for us to get content from our libraries. Perhaps this will allow for digital check-out, and then when there isn't a title available in digi-form, digital reserves for physical pick-up. Maybe this limiting of resources in bookstores (and limited bookstores, if they keep closing, though that is definitely not what I'm rooting for here) will mean us book-worms will start meeting up in library coffee shops instead of the Starbucks in the B&N.

I don't know what's coming next, and neither did the Comic-con panelists. But I do know change is on the horizon, and the digital generation is holding the reins. As long as they keep steering towards using all this fantastic technology to better our reading habits, I might actually be okay with it.

Want more on librarians at comic-con?

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