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Imke Reimers on The Digital Challenge to Public Libraries

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How is the rise of ebooks and access to these digital formats affecting public libraries and their patrons? Imke Reimers of Northeastern University joins Erik Brynjolfsson on Monday, April 4, for “The Digital Challenge to Public Libraries.”

Join us for lunch starting at 11:45am, with talk to follow 12-1pm. 

Abstract: Free access to information is important for knowledge diffusion and development, and libraries have traditionally provided this through communal access to books. This practice is facilitated by the first sale doctrine’s guarantee that libraries may purchase physical books at consumer prices. Increasingly restrictive ebook access terms may imperil libraries, and we explore the consequences of different library ebook access regimes for libraries and their patrons. First, using data on over 8,000 library systems for 2013-2019, we measure the impacts of physical and electronic holdings on the respective types of circulation. We then build a structural model of the library market, and we rationalize the status quo book holdings with a librarian utility function that attaches higher weights on electronic circulation. We then explore the counterfactual consequences of different ebook access regimes. While higher ebook prices would induce libraries to substitute physical for electronic holdings, this would have little effect on patron CS because of consumer willingness to substitute. Moreover, library substitution from electronic to physical books would stimulate library visits along with their possible concomitant effects on social capital.

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