People have read books for thousands of years, while e-books have been around only for the past few decades. Nevertheless, the theory that the need for physical books will disappear due to the march of e-books still occasionally emerges. From the point of view of libraries, this causes confusion.
I have always favored printed books; and I have to admit that until recently I had read e-books just a few times and only on the occasions when I had to stay at an airport for hours and when there were no physical books at hand. A paper book has many advantages: there is no need to charge it, it lasts long, and it doesn’t damage your eyesight. The ink aroma wafting from a brand new book as you open it makes you feel like something good and exciting lies ahead. When it comes to e-books, the only feeling they have aroused in me is a wish to alleviate horrible boredom. Even reading on an e-reader causes eye strain; and somehow, the feeling just isn’t right either.
However, the whole world changed recently. Due to the need to contain the spread of Covid-19, a disease with a fancy name also called the coronavirus, many libraries all over Estonia are closed right now; and it is difficult to check out books. The need for e-books has increased rapidly also in those corners of Estonia where it didn’t use to be significant. The smaller libraries have purposely not bought e-books since the procedure of checking them out is a bit complicated. Why? you probably wonder. What difference does it make whether we check out e-books or printed books? Actually, the difference is big: when purchasing e-books, libraries obtain a book lending license, which is valid for a certain number of loans – for example, 10 or 20 loans. After that, a new license has to be bought. A printed book, however, can be checked out to the readers until it literally crumbles to pieces. Another big problem has so far been the price of an e-book, which is actually a bit cheaper than that of a printed book but not enough to tip the scales towards the e-book when weighing the pros and cons of an e-book versus a printed book, especially considering the limited number of loans included in the price. So far, a 20% VAT rate has been set for e-publications, compared to 9% for printed publications. However, it seems that things have started changing recently. The Estonian Ministry of Culture is strongly supporting the decreasing of VAT rates for e- and audio publications and media – you can read about it here.
Due to all these circumstances, the largest quantity of e-books published in Estonian has so far been available to be checked out only in the e-book lending environment of Tallinn Central Library, ELLU, which was made accessible to people all over Estonia at the beginning of the state of emergency. In order to use it, one has to sign up as a member of the Tallinn Central Library, which can quite easily be done on the Internet by using either the ID card or the Mobile-ID. It has turned out that the number of TCL members has been increasing very rapidly during the crisis exactly because people from all over Estonia have been signing up as members when they have needed to use the ELLU e-book lending environment.
I myself am a brand new user of ELLU; and I sincerely recommend it to everyone who would like to read books while at home in self-quarantine. I also confidently recommend the user environment of the National Library of Estonia – DIGAR, which provides access to the publications stored in the digital archive. In addition, the National Library of Estonia intends to launch a free service enabling users all over Estonia to check out e-publications. You can read about it in more detail here.
Although even I have become a reader of e-books, in spite of being such a great favourer of printed books, I want to pose an intriguing question: what happens if at some point the Internet disappears as unexpectedly as the novel virus emerged amongst us? In that case, e-books would be useless. I am sure that there are many people who think that this will never happen. However, was anyone able to envision a year ago that a tiny, invisible, evil virus would be capable of placing the whole world under lockdown?
Whenever possible, I will still mainly remain faithful to the printed books; and I believe that physical books will be able to exist nicely side by side with e-books for a long time to come. Of course, it is up to everyone themselves whether they read a book on a smart device, on the computer, or by holding it in their hands. What matters is that people read!
Let me know in the comment section whether you prefer to read e-books or printed books, and why!
Merle Koik, email@example.com, development manager of the Central Library of Võru County, educator, and EPALE ambassador since 2017. She graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of Tartu University, having specialized in commercial economics, and has expanded her knowledge on many different trainings.