E-books–What Needs to Change?

That was the question. There are many problems with public library access to downloadable e-content, and speakers from Toronto Public Library and Hamilton Public Library were on hand to answer that question at the my first session on Friday afternoon.


The Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC), a body consisting of large Canadian urban libraries, has developed a vision statement on downloadable and portable e-content for public libraries. Among the key points include the need for libraries to acquire e-content as freely as they do print material, to own e-content (so producers cannot arbitrarily remove content), to consolidate access through a catalogue or portal with the library having some control over the DRM terms, and to offer device independence and open standards for content. It is hoped that by getting all stakeholders together, and collaborating, that public library access to downloadable e-content will be improved.

The speakers discussed some of the recent trends in e-books. The Amazon Kindle e-book reader is dominant, but it is proprietary. The Sony and Kobo readers work better with library content. The Kobo was sold out before Christmas 2010. Libraries noticed a spike in downloading of e-books at Christmas.


EBSCO has purchased NetLibrary from OCLC. New features and enhancements will be out later this year.


Blio (Baker & Taylor e-content, http://www.blio.com/) was launched September 2010. Blio reproduces the original material, in colour, which makes the e-content great for children. The e-content format is neutral and so can be loaded on many devices. In addition, an e-book can be loaded on five devices simultaneously, and the Blio service keeps track of the last page read on each device with its BookVault service. Unfortunately, Blio is not available for libraries yet. Blio was developed by the inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil.

Google E-Books (formerly Google Editions) has come out (http://books.google.com/) but there no library app. Check out this overview from Google: http://books.google.com/help/ebooks/overview.html.

Colour e-ink displays, developed in China, are coming later this year. Here’s a review of the first device in this PCMagazine article.

Expect tablet devices to increase in popularity, in part because of the success of the Apple iPad (http://www.apple.com/ipad/).

The speakers listed several other facts about e-books:

– OverDrive (http://www.overdrive.com/) began in 2004 with the mobi and PDF formats (Adobe PDFs were a nightmare to use on small personal digital assistants (PDAs)—the portable reader of the time)

– in the United States, OverDrive offers access to the public domain titles at Gutenberg (this will soon come to Canada) – Gutenberg Canada

– help screens at e-book sites are growing out of control, with all the devices and formats to support

– OverDrive is coming out with a very useful step-by-step e-book help feature. This “My Help!” feature is being tested at the New York Public Library (check it out here: http://ebooks.nypl.org/)

MyHelpSidebar OverDrive’s My Help! beta at the New York Public Library

– John Grisham has decided to release all his titles in e-book format

– the New York Times has started an e-book bestseller list

– the forecast for e-book sales in 2015 is $2.8 billion

– on December 25, 2010, OverDrive saw a 300% increase on its servers for downloading content


Hamilton Public Library announced that its e-book circulation passed e-audiobook circulation in August 2010. E-books are now 70% of the e-content circulation.

The busiest download time is between 7 pm and 11 pm, so e-books are competing with primetime television. Forty percent of all downloads occur when the library is closed.

Hamilton Public Library made efforts to increase staff and public awareness of e-books by setting up a traveling e-book help desk and with instructional videos. The library focused on issues related to DRM and the general industry outlook. The library has also tried to maintain a 3:1 hold ratio for e-book copies, but this is expensive and may not continue. Hamilton Public Library is looking to OverDrive for help, and the beta help function being tested at New York Public Library looks promising: http://ebooks.nypl.org/

I liked the point about how the catalogue is now supporting so many different formats for the work—book, large print, talking book, audiobook, e-audiobook, e-book. This is an area where the new cataloguing rules, RDA (Resource Description and Access) can help, provided that library systems are designed around the new guidelines.


Toronto Public Library has 22,000 titles, and now has more e-books than e-audiobooks (60% are e-books).

Libraries have essentially become the technical support front end for OverDrive. It’s been a challenge for staff training.

Children’s e-books are taking off. All but one was checked out. In 2009, Toronto Public Library saw an 88% increase in e-book circulation, and in 2010 the increase was 70%. But e-book circulation is still a tiny fraction of overall circulation, with less than 1% of the total.

There is a belief that connecting children to e-books can help improve literacy. The interactive functions in e-books show great potential in encouraging and development childhood reading skills.

The speakers also mentioned the difficulty in getting useful statistics from e-books. Hamilton Public Library’s library system connection to OverDrive can gather postal code and patron ID, but nothing else.

Hamilton Public Library found that romance titles are popular in e-books. Perhaps people had been embarrassed to be seen checking them out in person, and the anonymity of e-book downloading has had an effect. Otherwise, the library has found that the same categories as print titles (self-help, biography, recent fiction) are as popular in e-book format.

But e-book services are still missing pieces. The content is still problematic, with some areas not well covered. Usability is an ongoing problem, but I liked the point about mobile apps becoming the easiest method for e-content. I’m hoping my Windows Phone will soon be able to cover all e-content formats, since Microsoft DRM is built in (Windows Phones are so new though, that many apps aren’t available for it yet).

The speakers returned to the topic of the vision statement by CULC.

Libraries should be given greater consideration because they are creating a customer base for publishers.

Libraries need a non-proprietary e-book delivery platform. Sending users to multiple interfaces to download content is a bad approach.

Libraries need flexible access to e-content, with no proprietary software that needs to be installed on devices. Flexible DRM is important, and libraries need to retain some local control over loan periods and the number of devices that content can be downloaded to.

Libraries need device independence and open standards, such as ePub vs PDF or mobi (the Amazon Kindle format). Accessibility is very important, especially with the remarkable fact that e-books are being embraced by older readers. What’s amazing about e-books is that this is the first technology that cannot be associated with a particular age group—all ages are finding benefits from e-books.

Libraries need fair and flexible pricing models. The consumer sometimes gets lower prices than libraries (with print books it’s usually the other way around). OverDrive has gotten the complaints, but the company points out that it is the publisher that sets the price.

Libraries need to increase the number of copies available. People who read e-books are actually less likely to place holds—there’s apparently a different mentality out there when it comes to waiting for e-content. Simultaneous use, with unlimited access, is available for a flat fee in some cases, but currently not for popular material.

A new purchasing model is being discussed. Instead of holds, patrons can trigger a purchase. Caps are in place for the total number of purchases the library would have to do. This patron-driven acquisitions model is being planned by EBSCO for NetLibrary.

Libraries need to own their e-collection. Preserving and controlling content is what libraries are about. Libraries need to be able to select from a broad spectrum of e-content from publishers and distributors, and there needs to be greater access to Canadian content.

A great point was made about how libraries are actually helping publishers. Libraries are NOT cannibalizing sales from publishers, but in fact creating a net positive revenue stream for publishers.

There were some points made about the slow delivery of MARC records. Someone from London Public Library in the audience made the point that her library has only two-thirds of the e-book collection represented in the catalogue.

The pressure on library staff was discussed. Working with download stations was very stressful. Dozens of e-mails are being sent about e-books and staff are having difficulty keeping up and dealing with complex issues like the assigned IDs to e-book devices. The concern is that customers are being lost because it’s often impossible to walk people through the downloading process.

Some solutions to the support problem were mentioned. Libraries can advertise technical support will be available at certain times of day and at certain locations. Libraries have been producing e-book training videos, but everyone is waiting for OverDrive to step up to the plate and produce better support tools. Edmonton Public Library has an e-book show-and-tell where people can bring their own devices.

At the end the speakers mentioned that OverDrive’s DigiPalooza is a great conference to attend. The next one, in 2011, is in Cleveland. http://www.digipalooza.com/


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