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SLN Symposium Discusses the Future of e-books

February, 2011
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One could wonder what the collective noun is for a large group of librarians: a shelf of librarians? A catalogue? A whisper? Whatever they’re called, no doubt the largest gathering of this species ever in Shanghai took place at Dulwich College recently. More than 60 school librarians came from all over Shanghai, China and as far as Hong Kong, to attend the first symposium of the Shanghai Librarians Network (SLN).

sln_marione589afe69cacMarion van Engelen, Dulwich College Librarian, remembers “the SLN was founded two years ago, I was in that first meeting with four other people. Now we have 50 members, and we hold monthly meetings, always hosted by one of the Librarians, in their own Library.”

“At the meetings it became obvious that there is always so much to talk about, that we realized we could easily fill a day, talking to each other, and learning from each other. And we were right”, beams Fiona Collins, librarian at Western International School of Shanghai.

The aim of the symposium was to share expertise with colleagues working in the same field, and to create a low thresh hold platform for new Librarians, and Library support staff, where everybody would feel safe to ask questions, and feel encouraged to share their practice.

Amongst sessions about teaching research and information skills, or International Baccalaureate assignments, there was also a ‘crash course in librarianship’. A novelty was the focus on the job of library support staff, such as creation of library promotional materials, and tactics to politely interact with library patrons. The presentations were offered by library support staff as well, and for most of them this was a new experience.

One of the ‘hot’ discussion topics at the symposium was the boom in the use of e-books and e-readers. Librarians are not sure if publishers are thinking about the library use of e-books. For instance, it is difficult to lend an e-book to a friend, or, to give an e-book to a friend as a present. Currently on Amazon you can only buy e-books for your own account and no gift options are available. People will have to continue to buy printed books as gifts. And what about the visiting author who signs your own copy of her latest novel? And e-readers could be on loan in the Library, but the school’s or Librarian’s credit card will be red-hot, if it is not possible to switch off one-click the buying option on the reader. A representative of Amazon has confirmed that they haven’t thought about this yet.

Barbara Boyer, librarian at Shanghai American School expressed concern about the lack of new popular e-books for students. “If we currently lived in a world of paperless books people would be severely limited in their reading”, she warns. “The publishing industry is creating a greater digital, educational divide between the haves and have nots, by not allowing libraries to have access to e-books to check out.” (B. Boyer, “Are Kindles and Nooks Creating a Greater Digital Divide”, blog posting Nov. 16, 2010, http://www.barbaraboyerlibrarian.com).

Another concern was the expense of digital reading devices, which would add to the burden of students, having to look after another device, on top of their expensive phones, their laptops, etcetera. Would you like your 6-year old to come home with a 1500 RMB e-reader? The future of e-books still looks a bit like a minefield, and no one dared to make predictions about the future of printed books. But there is no doubt that e-books are here to stay.


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