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We’re in the EBook Business

Hutch Tibbetts

Hutch Tibbetts

The “Big 6″ publishers are refusing to sell e-content to libraries or else they charge high prices and impose strict restrictions on usage. Overdrive raised pricing unilaterally in Kansas and retained ownership of e-book titles, which then were not discoverable through the OPAC. And if the library cancelled the Overdrive contract, they would lose ownership of the e-books and would not be able to lend them.

Available content originated almost entirely from mainstream vendors, but some content previously unavailable was avail through independent publishers, local historical documents, or was self-published. (Self-publishing is increasing; about 600,000 titles are expected to appear this year.)

To answer these problems, the Douglas County, CO Library (DCL), where Hutch is the Digital resources Librarian, developed a new e-book model: libraries should own rather than lease their content. E-books are treated just like print materials and circulate on a 1 user/copy basis. The library buys additional copies when there are 4 holds on a title. The staff found new ways to promote their e-books.

Technologies used include an Adobe content server, an e-reader that was developed locally, and a VuFind discovery layer (which had to be extensively customized). APIs were developed to allow integration of services.
Personalized recommendations are available to users, either anonymously or customized from a reader’s previous checkouts. A digital power wall was developed that is analogous to a physical power wall display that shows what’s new, what’s hot, etc.

Digital Powerwall

Digital Powerwall

The power wall was integrated into the website and was enhanced with a carousel display of new titles in a genre.

The new e-book model has changed every aspect of operations. The annual budget had to be redesigned to accommodate new types of content; new collection development procedures had to be developed; and an Acquisition Team was formed to deal with those issues. The staff had to be trained, and new products needed to be developed in the new environment. DCL was the first library to acquire its own Adobe content server, and the IT staff had to spend lots of time resolving ambiguities. there was little precedent for many of the problems.

The library became a publisher. Patrons now have seamless access to all types of e-content. Much of the e-book collection will be widely available in perpetuity. All e-content is available from a single portal which is also used for discovery, managing, and reporting. DCL now has agreements with  more than 20 publishers  The library has purchased about 10,000 titles at an average 35% discount, and its success has encouraged other libraries to adopt their own e-book ownership programs. The DCL model has been replicated at other libraries for as little as $10,000 (DCL spent $100,000 to develop and launch the program).

Lessons learned: It is important to know more about publishers and their concerns than ever before . They want usage reports. DCL has been approached by independent publishers who are eager to break into new markets. Many are just beginning to learn how to manage the e-content process. New companies are springing up to help publishers create new files. Libraries need to generate a strong PR buzz for every new publisher who joins the suppliers and think through the terms of the contract.

DCL has signed agreements with Gale Cengage, Lerner Publishing, and IPG. Every trip to a conference now involves asking publishers a simple question, “Will you sell us your e-books?” Owning their own server is attractive to publishers. DCL now owns not only the platform but the library can become a publisher as well. There are many ways the library could start a conversation with publishers. Many are not used to dealing with 1 library at a time.

Still missing are an acquisition system, Kindle platform, and getting the Big 6 to work with them.

Now libraries are taking the community to the world. Many books are checked out because they are on display. How do you display an e-book? Via a digital powerwall.
A recommendation engine built into the catalog can push content to users. It is like iTunes, but you don’t have to pay at the library.

Don Hawkins
CIL 2014 Blogger and Blog Coordinator
Editor, Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage

 

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