I just pushed a book one of our patrons wanted to his personal iPad that I synced to my Kindle cloud as a sort of beta test. In addition to circulating about 30 ereaders that the library owns,and managing about 100 institutional iPads that have the Library's Kindle account on them, I have also installed my Kindle account on about 10 personal devices. This group of people who have it are part of my beta test group who help me with all kinds of thorny questions and experiments.
Why would I sync an account to a privately owned device? Well, because the answer to ebooks is not hardware based. It's software. Librarians are always asking me which ereader they should adopt, which company to work with, and my answer is, "It depends on your strategic vision and personal preferences." Because that question is irrelevant if we have the right software. I am working towards a scenario where libraries own their own ebooks. By "own" I mean host their content where they choose. If they choose the Amazon cloud, so be it, but they could also host the content on their own servers (theoretically). The real issue is delivery and content management.
My vision is that libraries will be able to compete with Google by offering delivery to every device and patron at the moment of need- or want. The gentleman I just delivered a nonfiction book to was in a meeting, heard about a book that sounded valuable, emailed me the title, and I pushed the book to his particular iPad immediately.
The value of this type of management model cannot be overemphasized. I have been using these devices for four year now with our patrons. Ebooks and readers have so much potential for improving our services on so many levels, but their ability to make us competitive again is what really matters. Google cannot get my patron the book immediately unless he buys it himself. Many patrons are loath to do this, but I am willing to buy the titles because we are a library and are always buying titles. By creating a crowd sourced patron driven acquisition model, and syncing personal devices to the library cloud we are suddenly able to deliver a service other electronic services and resources cannot. This is the libraries advantage over browsers and the internet in the new ebook world, and this is why I have been experimenting with syncing my account to personal devices.
It also does wonders for our image. The library on campus is now one of the main "go to" places. We are faster, more fluid, and give our patrons a collective power they lack on their own. People expect the library to have answers and ideas before anyone or any other institution on campus. Creating a new image for libraries is obviously important, and we want one that is powerful and pleasing to our patrons. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen one of these types of transactions take place, and seen a new understanding of the library dawn on the face of the patron we helped. I expect to see it now.
This is one of the advantages ebooks offer libraries. We can build bigger and more fluid collections that can reach our patrons more places than ever before- in real time. But we have to have the right model. It needs to be patron driven, it needs to be library managed (rather than publisher or vendor) and it needs to happen now.