But I've been running into a problem lately. I depend heavily on interlibrary loan (ILL) for lots of the books I read. I don't want to purchase books that I will only read once and never refer to again. And our local library isn't likely to purchase things like Pardee's The Ugaritic Texts and the Origins of West-Semitic Literary Composition or Rowe's Acts commentary World Upside Down! After all, we only have 1500 residents and maybe 3 people would even consider reading them. Not a wise use of library funds. So I use interlibrary loan.
But lately I've been running into a problem: e-books. Specifically, academic e-books. One of the big benefits of e-books, so they say, is that they can be accessed anywhere, that the Internet is leveling the economic barriers to a good education. Well, kind of. There is no doubt that some of the offerings through places like iTunes U are great. I've listened to some of the lectures from places like Yale; good stuff.
But have you ever tried to access an electronic book (EBSCO or ebrary) from a computer that is not located on campus? Have you ever succeeded if you aren't a current student/faculty member? Probably not.
That's a problem. If it were a physical book, I could request it via ILL and have it in a couple of weeks. Not so with an electronic one. For example, I recently tried to request a copy of Bloomsbury [formerly Continuum] Companion to Historical Linguistics via ILL. There are three copies available in Minnesota—two via the U of Minnesota and one in a library consortium. Not bad for an esoteric book like that...
So I tried to request it via ILL on the Internet. No success. So I went into the library to ask them to request it (they know me quite well...). This was about a month ago. I received the book yesterday. From the University of Oklahoma! A quick look at Worldcat shows that there are only 32 libraries with the physical book! Granted, that was a quick look; I'm sure I could uncover more if I looked more carefully...but the point remains the same: how can an independent scholar get a copy? The tendency, especially in linguistics and other more "esoteric" subjects, is toward e-books.
I understand the logic. Space is expensive and limited in a library. It makes sense to use that space on books that will be accessed by more than a handful of people. But what about access for those who aren't the privileged few? What about access for those of us who are 2.5 hours from an academic library and 5 hours from a really good one?