“Why isn’t it online Miss?”

Happy New Year everyone! Sorry I’ve been quiet for so long, but that’s because I spent most of early December raising invoices for students who hadn’t returned their books, then most of late December arguing with those students about not returning their books. It was a great month.

But I’m back and as I’m #latenightlibrarian* tonight, I’m going to treat you to a rant about ebooks. Stupid, sodding ebooks.

So late last year I dealt with a student who was unhappily returning his book because someone else had reserved it. I was putting a reservation on it for him in return when he complained “why isn’t it online Miss?” I suppressed the eye roll and attempted to explain that a. not everything is online and b. even if it is, sometimes we can’t afford it or make an informed choice not to buy it. To which he responded “yeah, but my brother right, he’s at another university and all of his textbooks are online Miss, all of them. And if they’re not he just asks and they’re put online. So why aren’t ours?” Again, I tried to explain to him the intricacies of ebooks that I, being a qualified librarian, should reasonably be expected to know more about than his brother, but sadly the student stropped off, probably thinking that we were the meanest library in the world. I then checked with his subject librarian. The book? NOT AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK!

This week is the first week of term, although exams don’t start until next week so the Library is mostly full of very dedicated students getting on with their revision, punctuated with the odd visit from panicking students who haven’t visited the Library all year. The book they are most concerned about is an Operations Management book that was written by one of their lecturers and which is the basis of an exam they have next week. And which, of course, they were told to buy. We have 19 copies of this and a further 2 copies in short loan. There are currently *checks* 18 reservations on this book which – if everyone were to respect the due date of their loans – would mean that all those students would get a copy in just over a week, but that’s obviously ridiculous. One, for example, was due back on December 5th. They can book the short loan copies, but no ones returning those on time either. So naturally, every other student coming to the desk is asking about this book and every other one of them is whinging about it not being available online. Being a good customer services librarian, I toddled off and checked to see if it was available as an ebook. It is. FOR £735.00!

Okay, my rant is not really about ebooks but about student’s perceptions of them and the annoyingly widespread idea that everything is available online. Librarians spend a large amount of their lives trying to fight this misconception although we don’t appear to be close to winning yet** One of my favourite projects is the That’s Not Online! tumblr, which aims to draw attention to the vast amount of information that is not available in electronic format. Is it fair to expect 18 year olds to be aware of this great issue of contention? Probably not, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask that they listen to librarians when we explain that not everything is online and try to remember that in the future.

The real kicker, anyway, is one that @deadlylibrarian pointed out when I was ranting about this on twitter; even when we do have the ebook and you point this out triumphantly to the desperate student at the Helpdesk, they usually just frown and say “but I don’t want to use the ebook…” So I take it back, ebooks are clearly the problem because they are EVIL and never there when they’re needed and always there when they’re not wanted.

I have 150 minutes left before I go home and if one more person asks me about that Operations Management book I might explode. Wish me luck.

*You are all on twitter, right? I’m reasonably sure that the only people who read this are the people who follow me on twitter, but on the off-chance I’ve caught someone else with my witty and erudite prose, come and join us on twitter and learn the beauty of the hashtag.

**If you’re interested in fighting a losing battle, head to the Guardian and look for any articles about ebooks, publishing, libraries, the future of the book etc then go to the comments and try arguing with everyone who posts something along the lines of “I don’t need books, I’ve got a kindle and everythings online anyway lol.” You’ll give up after two articles for the sake of your own mental health. Bonus points if you can argue with anyone who starts talking about Google Books and / or JSTOR making books / journals obsolete without wanting to claw your own eyes out.