Friday, May 4, 2012

Libraries and ebooks  . . .

Does our library offer ebooks? I’m sorry, no – at least not just yet!

Everybody has an iPad, Nook, Kindle, or other ereader device, right? Well, not really, at least not here in Adams County, MS. As the popularity of these devices increases, public libraries are being pressured – from both the publishing industry and our patrons to provide free downloads!

If you have a Kindle, you know it is relatively simple to purchase a title from Amazon and have it “magically” appear on your device. I have the Kindle app on my iPad and that’s how it works for me. I’m not familiar with downloading directly from iTunes to the iPad, or downloading to a Nook or another ereader, but I imagine the process is similar.
Simple, right? WRONG!
So, why can’t you do it at the library? Well, think about it – if you have an ereader device, you have an account somewhere (with the device maker or with a third party, which provides the service) that allows you to purchase and download your books. The connection is just between you and them.

Enter the library. You have a library card, which you present when you check books out, correct? Checking a print book out from the library and downloading a virtual book to your device are similar in that they both require that you have a library card in order to check out the book. The GETTING the book is where the difference comes in. With a printed book, you come in to the library, select a title, take it off the shelf, and bring it to the circulation desk where the clerk scans your library card and the barcode on the book, gives you a printed receipt, hands you the book, and says, “Thank you, this book is due back in two weeks!” You walk out the door. Easy! But, back to downloading a book…

The library has to buy the book (which we have to do for printed books, as well!) – but, back to THIS subject later – and make it available. We don’t actually physically HAVE the book, but we have to still pay money for the titles we think our patrons would like to read. So, how do you know what titles we have purchased? We buy the right to access titles from a supplier, much like Amazon, or another source. Again, back to this subject later.
Ok, you have a library card and an ereader device and want to download a title you have found in our catalog. How does it get from our virtual shelf to your device? Well, that’s the tricky part. The LIBRARY has to pay for the interface to accomplish this. Think of the circulation clerk at the desk as the interface to check out a print book. The interface which allows you to download (check out) access to the title you have chosen to your ereader device (hardware) from our catalog (software) is another piece of software. The library has to purchase software to allow your ereader device to communicate with our catalog in order to download the title.

Remember that subject I said we would get back to? Well, here it is. The software the library has to purchase is not cheap! There are two major software vendors that provide this interface. One is Overdrive ( and the other is 3M Cloud Library ( The ANNUAL cost of the interface for our area (based on our population and circulation statistics) is between $3,000 and $5,000 – yes, that is THOUSAND, annually! Before we buy access to any titles – another subject to address! We also have to purchase (a one time cost) a protocol (some invisible access allowance somethingie!!!) to allow the vendor to get the titles into our catalog so you can find them!
So, now the library has paid for the “protocol” and paid for the software interface. How do we pay for the books. Well, the software vendor has taken care of that for us. We pay them for access to the titles.

Have you noticed that I keep using that word – ACCESS? We don’t actually OWN the virtual book. We just have the right to pass access to the title on to you, one at a time. So, if we purchase access to one copy of the newest Greg Iles title, it’s just like having one print copy on the shelf. Only ONE PERSON AT A TIME can check out that print copy – and only one person at a time can have access to the downloaded title.
Now, the good part is that you can’t lose or damage it (and have to pay the library for it), and it won’t go overdue (so you rack up those huge overdue fines!) – the download just disappears from your device! But, if you weren’t quite finished reading it, you are out of luck. No keeping it just a few more days until you finish it. You might be able to renew it (if someone else is on the request list for it, the title is not renewable!) and finish it, but if the title is not renewable, you have to get back on the request list for it!
On to that last subject I was going to get back to – the cost, and availability of – purchasing access to titles. Some publishers of best-selling titles just won’t sell to public libraries. At all. And, some publishers of best-selling titles have tripled the cost of purchasing access to their titles to public libraries. And, one publisher has actually changed their policy to state that a public library can download a title twenty-six (26) times, and then it has to be repurchased!

There are several different formats for titles to be downloaded.  The most common are .epub, .pdf, ibooks (for the iPhone and iPad), and .azw and .kf8 (for Kindle). There are many other and some formats are specific to the actual device.
If you have made it through to here, the end of this article, you can understand that offering ebooks is not a simple or inexpensive service. I have attended conferences, webinars and workshops on the subject, only to be more convinced than ever that the world of ebooks is as not ready for us as we are for it.

Delegating one-fourth to one-fifth of the library’s book budget for the small segment of our users that have requested ebooks is just not fiscally responsible. And – until the publishing industry settles on fair treatment and pricing for public libraries – not acceptable! When that happens, perhaps we can revisit the justification of the cost of the service!
Thank you!

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