An ambitious one-day online event that featured a keynote by technologist Ray Kurzweil and more than 15 hours of presentations, "E-Books: Libraries at the Tipping Point" focused on every aspect of the developing e-book market and its impact on public, school, and academic libraries. Held September 29 and organized by Library Journal and School Library Journal, the virtual "summit" on e-books certainly delivered on its promises.
The Web meeting (ebook-summit.com) brought together more than 40 respected experts (including this reporter and PW features editor Andrew Albanese) from across the spectrum of library professionals, academia, and tech journalism as well as the LJ/SLJ staff. An audience of more than 2,500 digital attendees (representing more than 800 public libraries, over 400 academic libraries, and more than 400 school libraries) attended the one-day virtual conference. Ian Singer, v-p, content & business development for Media Source, parent company of LJ and SLJ (no longer affiliated with PW), said the conference was meant to address the fact that "public and school libraries are struggling to understand the e-book industry. We wanted to bring libraries and publishers together and offer a huge knowledge dump about what e-books are and what the challenges are for libraries."
Singer said that a survey commissioned for the event, featuring 1,800 library respondents, found the average public library offered 1,500 e-book titles, and the average academic library offered more than 30,000 e-titles. In the coming year, the survey found that 84% of public libraries expected e-book circulation to increase, with overall circulation up 36%, while 77% of academic libraries projecting an increase in circulation with overall circulation up 18%. While school libraries had few titles (49 on average), the report found that 65% of libraries expect e-book circulation to increase this year with total circulation up 26%.
While webinars and similar virtual events the length of the LJ/SLJ e-book summit are not unprecedented, Library Journal editorial director Brian Kenney said the depth of programming, presentations, and mix of virtual events was unusual and demanding. "It was crazily ambitious. Now that it's done we'll probably never do it this way again," he joked. Nearly 2,000 of the 2,500 attendees remained online for the entire time, and they could even download a "certificate of continuing education" for attending.
Kenney said the library magazines wanted to hold an online event that would have the "look and feel of a so-called real conference." Hosted by webcaster On24, the event offered all the amenities of your basic conference. There was a slick virtual "plaza" offering an array of venues that included an auditorium of virtual panel presentations; a networking center with message boards and scheduled group chats; and an exhibition hall with video and chat presentations by sponsors like OverDrive, Cengage, Springer, EBSCO, ebrary, and others. "The virtual exhibition hall surprised some sponsors," Kenney said. "There were nearly 800 people logged into the hall, and booths need to be staffed when you have 30 people in a chat room asking questions." The event will be archived until the end of the year for those registered, and the archives can be accessed for $20 by new parties.
There was more programming than can be detailed here, but it ranged from Syracuse University's David Lanke and his self-described "cranky" overview on the impact of "turning paper to pixels," to LJ columnist Neal Wyatt's airy theoretical "analysis of e-books and the perception of what we read" on the panel on Reader Advisories. EBSCO's Duncan Smith provided a nuts and bolts look at the growth of online visitors to library Web sites. "For every person who walks through the door of the Charlotte [N.C.] library, there are 12 page views on the Web site. A visit to the library increasingly means visiting online," he observed.
Kenney said the magazines plan to "build on the event" and will offer another look at e-books next April. "But it won't be an all-day event," he was quick to add, laughing. LJ's Barbara Genco said feedback from attendees has been overwhelmingly supportive. "The trajectory of e-books has been so fast, we wanted to make sure libraries are fluent in the conversation," Genco said. "Our goal was to begin a conversation and remind people that libraries are not strangers to technology."