or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

eCards at Boston Public Library

   October 31st, 2006

For awhile now, the Boston Public Library has been offering what they call "eCards" - library cards you can sign up for through their website (the Librarian in Black recently posted about this). They only last six months, but you do not need to go to the library in person to get one, and they provide instant access to BPL's electronic resources.

BPL has a special status in Massachusetts, as all of their materials are available to any resident of the state. Which in itself is nice. However, the ability to sign up for a card and get right into their databases, ebooks, digital audio books, etc., is amazing.

But it does leave me, as a librarian in another Massachusetts town, with a question. If BPL is going to be paying for resources like ReferenceUSA, Heritage Quest and Overdrive, and my local patrons are legally allowed to use them, should my library bother to continue our subscriptions to these services?

The cons are, of course, that I lose control of access (if BPL's resource goes offline, we're out of luck), I'll be showing a lot of people how to sign up for BPL eCards, and it just doesn’t seem right. I want to build a solid collection for my patrons, and building around something like this puts my collection and patrons at risk. However, the pro of saving all that money, and using it for something else, is very real.

Personally, I plan to continue with my own collection development, regardless of what BPL does (but certainly use any resources they have that we don't). But in a budget crunch time, I could see the Town (who funds our budget) using this as a reason why the library's budget could be cut.

Could it be possible that one library doing its best to serve its patrons actually hurts another library's ability to do so? Or does this portend all local libraries just being branches of a large state system?

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