Libraries or E-book Readers?

I envision having a conversation like this one day with my grandkids:

Lee III: Granddaddy, what were “libraries”?
Me: They were government-funded book sharing entitlement schemes. Taxpayers borrowed money to build libraries. You’re paying for them now.
Lee III: Granddaddy! You’re being a grumpy old curmudgeon again.
Me: They were big buildings with books. You could borrow them.
Lee III: You could borrow the buildings?
Me: No, the books! <unintelligible grumblings>
Lee III: Oh yeah, a library! Like Alexandria in the third century BC? How quaint.
Me: Yeah, except we were still building them in 2011.
Lee III: You still had books in 2011? I thought Alpharetta was a high-tech city?

Smart grand kids I’ve got there, huh?

I continue to follow the public comments on Alpharetta’s downtown plans as they pour in. By far my favorite came as a tweet from Rob Forrest. Rob is a real estate developer, restauranteur and IT startup guy. I’m going to paraphrase his idea a little. First, some background…

The Fulton County library system is set to build a new Alpharetta branch on land donated from the city as part of their downtown vision. The library system will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $24 million for this branch. The funds come from a bond approved by Fulton County voters back in 2008. This $24 million is in addition to the $29 million the city of Alpharetta wants to pour into downtown.

So what was Rob’s idea?

e-Book Readers for All!

It would cost just shy of $8 million to buy an Amazon Kindle e-Book reader for every man, woman and child in Alpharetta. Based on the 2010 census, you’d need 57,551 devices at $139 each. Sure, that doesn’t include the cost of the books, but if we’ve got $24 million to play with, that still leaves a staggering $16 million after paying for the devices.

Now before you label me a library hater, keep in mind that this is somewhat of an academic discussion. We still need libraries. Yet technology is making obsolete just about every form of physical media, including books. And not only that, the devices themselves are quickly becoming commodities. I wouldn’t be surprised if e-Book readers are soon offered for free, with manufacturers earning their money on content sales and subscriptions.

Rob’s comments on the library put the cost into a creative new perspective. I attempted to do this with the $29 million downtown pricetag back in May when I wrote about city hall’s opportunity cost. We’re talking about significant chunks of money with Alpharetta’s downtown plans.

It makes me laugh to hear politicians talk about how high-tech Alpharetta’s new library will be. It’s ironic considering such an alternative is available at a fraction of the cost. So yes, Alpharetta does need a new library. But more than that, Alpharetta needs leaders that can be creative thinkers and innovators. I expect more coming from such a high-tech city.

Photo Credit: Tsgreer (public domain)

6 Responses to “Libraries or E-book Readers?”

  1. Kim July 25, 2011 at 11:44 am #

    Unless the government has already chosen Kindle as the winner in their “picking winners and losers” scheme, then please make mine a Barnes & Noble Nook. :-)

  2. Kim July 25, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    Oh, and BTW, you aren’t being forward-thinking enough, Lee. The library will be the perfect place for “redevelopment” in a few years. Or maybe they leave it like all the other vacant buildings and build new buildings for new purposes?

  3. Greg July 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I have a good perspective on this since 1) I was just in the library this weekend, and 2) I own a color Nook.

    The interesting thing you’ll notice when you’re in the library is how many kids are using it. As a matter of a fact, I was there picking up books my kids reserved online.

    I love my color Nook. But when I hear people talking about e-readers and tablets replacing books, I grow sad. The color Nook comes with a couple kids books as samples. I read those to my kids, but they absolutely can’t compare to reading through a book.

    Many people counter with the argument that e-readers and tablets can animate the illustrations and even read the books to the kids. They claim that will get today’s kids even more interested in books. I’m sorry, but an animated book that reads to you is called TV, and my kids already get enough of that.

    So while I love my Nook, count me in the “Let’s keep the librarys!” camp.

  4. Kim July 25, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    Greg, I totally agree with you. There is nothing like holding a leather-bound classic in your hands.

  5. Travis Allen July 26, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    I prefer to turn a page, not hit a button.

    There should be simple things like reading a book that really on technology as little as possible (gotta have a light to read by at night)

  6. John Peltier July 30, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

    Interesting idea! How about the newcomers–would we buy one for each new resident upon their purchase or rental of a home in Alpharetta?

    I develop and market products for a living, and I am one of the rare people who will read books on my phone, but I do admit I like the physical page-turning experience.

    Nice food for thought!

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