Here is a column I wrote for our award-winning “The Open Book” Arlington Advocate column recently that discusses the challenges we face with eBooks/eContent (including challenges with pricing, access, and dealing with growing demand). It was originally published in the Arlington Advocate and can be seen on their Wicked Local Arlington website here. Check it out below:
Recently, I received an e-mail from a patron concerned about the limited availability of ebooks in the Minuteman Library Network.
He did an investigation and discovered that the Boston Public Library has more library ebooks available than Minuteman, and he also discovered that several bestsellers weren’t available from either Minuteman or the BPL in the ebook format.
His observations are absolutely correct, the state of electronic books, and eContent in general, isn’t as good as it needs to be in the Minuteman Library Network. Unlike the collections at our individual libraries, all the Minuteman libraries go in together as a group to purchase our ebooks collection although there is an exception to this which I will mention momentarily.
Despite the tremendous increase in library ebook usage we have seen over the past three years, finding the funding to keep up with this growing demand is a major challenge. Unfortunately, ebooks for libraries are expensive. Douglas County Libraries in Colorado release a report each month that illustrates library pricing versus consumer pricing for ebooks. You can view the report by visiting http://bit.ly/19kSBPz.
Libraries often pay four times what consumers pay for ebooks, and in some cases, even more. Additionally, many publishers don’t even allow libraries to purchase ebooks in the first place. Thus, the two major reasons that there are not more library ebooks available for patrons are: 1) many publishers don’t allow their ebooks to be purchased by libraries, and 2) ebooks are very expensive for libraries.
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the American Library Association and institutions such as the New York Public Library, the major publishers are starting to come around and are slowly starting to make their ebooks available to libraries. However, the existing model for library ebook purchasing, which perhaps I should be calling library ebooks licensing, because libraries can only license ebooks at this point, is broken and needs to be fixed.
Here are some of the things were are doing to address our challenges with ebooks:
1) The service that provides ebooks for Minuteman, the Boston Public Library, and most other libraries across the country is called OverDrive. Even though Arlington goes in with the other libraries in Minuteman and makes a group purchase of ebooks, OverDrive has provided an option for individual libraries to opt into called OverDrive Advantage, which is the exception I referred to above. The way OverDrive Advantage works is that individual libraries can purchase ebooks and downloadable audiobooks that only their residents can access. To see what OverDrive Advantage titles we have, you first need to log in to your library account at digital.minlib.net, and then you can see the titles we purchase that are available exclusively for Arlington residents.
2) The Massachusetts Library System is working on a statewide ebook platform project which will hopefully address some of the cost and availability issues libraries have with ebooks. You can learn more about this project by visiting http://bit.ly/14kUMQ0. The Robbins Library is serving as one of the 50 beta libraries for this project.
3) We are also a partner library of a grassroots nonprofit called Library Renewal you can learn about by visiting http://bit.ly/15ncgKx. Library Renewal wants to build a new platform to help libraries acquire eContent at sustainable prices.
4) We always like to remind our patrons that there is another library ebooks collection they can access to expand their options. Residents of Massachusetts can sign up for an eCard with the Boston Public Library. This eCard provides access to all of the Boston Public Library’s electronic resources, including ebooks. You can learn more about the BPL eCard by visiting http://bit.ly/180vQCC.
Libraries across the country are struggling with the challenge of satisfying the growing community demands for ebooks and eContent. We are actively addressing these challenges and I am optimistic that we will do a much better job of meeting the ebook needs of our community in the future.