The shock of the Lou - Lewisham plans free ebook service

Rachel: Maybe Joey's right. Maybe all good deeds are selfish. 
Phoebe: I will find a selfless good deed. 'Cause I just gave birth to three children and I will not let them be raised in a world where Joey is right.
- Friends

The recent news that book lending rates had fallen in Lewisham's community-run libraries prompted an interesting discussion about some of the possible underlying causes, but also an intervention by BC regular, Lou Baker, who suggested that most of the borough's libraries could be done without, if we equipped residents with eReaders:

"£4.6m would buy more than 50,000 Kindles. 20% of the borough's residents could be given one - and they could access tens of thousands of e-books without additional charges.

"The libraries could then mostly be shut down - save for one big central library - saving further cash next year, enabling more residents to benefit from an ebook reader. Would ultimately be cheaper, more convenient and better."

You can read the debate here.

Another BC regular, Monkeyboy, forwarded us a recent tweet by Cllr Mike Harris, who reveals that Lou had stumbled dangerously close to a good idea. Cllr Harris says:

"Wow: Lewisham Council to launch e-book app with access on your phone to books / plays such as the entire works of Shakespeare."

So the libraries will stay open, but eBooks will become more easily available. The devil's in the the detail, but as long as this is a low-cost idea, we can see only upside.

Happily for our sanity, the plan is closer to what we suggested in the debate as a way to broaden access:

"How about the government negotiating a reading list for the people each year - paying copyright owners a fixed sum for UK residents to be able to download certain books each year for free. A bit Reithian, but nothing wrong with that."

Normal service is resumed.

By the by, in our day job, BC has been doing some work with The Economist to analyse what the impact of tablets and eReaders will be on print. You can read the presentation below, but in the near future, handheld digital devices will replace print as the dominant way to read (for those with access to the devices). So one way or another, Lou is right that libraries will need to adapt. Fast.

More on the Lewisham plan soon.