eBook Availability at Libraries

Making eBooks available to general users poses a new and intricate problem for public librarians. Libraries must manage changing acquisition and ownership models, and provide those resources to a variety of public users. In the changing digital environment, libraries must take strides to enter into digital resources to stay relevant, and provide the public information services that they desire.

For every eBook a library purchases, they sacrifice money that would have gone somewhere else (print collections, other technology). Purchasing copies of books in multiple formats (digital, audio, print) already limits the number of materials that a library can manage in their budget. When librarians were asked “if they relocated funds from their physical materials formats to buy downloadable copies… nearly half of the respondents said yes. As library budgets are not increasing, this will impact the composition of collections across the board” (Moyer & Thiele, 2012). While this issue became a part of acquisition when audiobooks and large print formats entered the market, those materials were purchased as an investment. The current models of purchasing eBooks disallows libraries from owning their own materials (except in certain publisher-exceptions). These different models seek to “offset what publishers perceive as risks in selling ebooks to libraries” (American Library Association, 2012).  Publishers fear that they easy access to digital material will discourage the already declining group of book consumers from purchasing their product, and the provision of library materials will further cut from their bottom line. They also enforce increased protection in the eBook format to dissuade users from copying the books themselves, which makes it difficult to use the books as an exchangeable product.

As a result of publishers and vendors fears about the piracy, free competition, and copying of books, many of the business models offered to libraries do not take into account the purposes of the institution.  The current methods of purchasing eBooks for libraries is complex, and focuses on several different business models, including “one book/one user, multiuser, unlimited simultaneous use, subscription, patron-driven acquisition, and short-term loan (aka pay-per-use)” (Polanka, 2011, 4). The one book/one user model of managing public access to library-owned eBooks most closely matches our current model of traditional material access, because “loans are limited to one user at a time for each ebook license purchased” (American Library Association, 2012). This model, which proposes that a library or collective lends out only as many copies of an eBook as they have purchased has the most potential for creating a valid procedure for public libraries to manage eBooks.

Some subscription services, such as Overdrive provide libraries with an intermediary who provides copies of texts from publishers in formats that range across devices. This company delivers the one user/one book model, and “has partnered with publishers and with 8,500 public libraries in the USA and Canada over the past years to license and deliver over 100,000 titles, seems to be the preferred choice for American public libraries as the sole source for ebooks, downloadable audio and music and video content” (Ashcroft, 2011, 402-403). Overdrive has made a great effort to become a visual and popular method of eBook access, which has brought additional eBook users into the library environment.

The most viable subscription style model is the Limited Number of Loans method described by the ALA’s EBook Business Models as libraries “repurchas[ing] the same title after a defined number or loans. (In theory, this is to offset the fact that ebooks don’t wear out, get lost or stolen, have coffee spilled on them, etc.)” (American Library Association, 2012, 4-5). This model could be managed by applying a high number of checkouts before the required reprinting, as well as an adjustment towards a “rent-to-own” model.

Another aspect of eBook lending in libraries is the disparity of income between different users. While some users maintain access to the available eBooks with their own readers, this is not a financially sound option for all users. Another option which has been used in some libraries is the distribution of loaded eReaders to library patrons, rather than the patron using their own device to download books through the business models listed above.  With the price of eReaders decreasing (Amazon’s Kindle now costs $69) this may become a feasible method for libraries to provide digital resources to less affluent users (Amazon Inc., 2012). The Menomonie Public Library in Northwestern Wisconsin uses this method in conjunction with Overdrive, and “any item with more than 15 local holds is purchased for the Kindles as long as an e-book edition is available” (Moyer & Thiele, 2012). They have increased their eBook holdings from the original 5 Kindle devices, to a total of 17 Kindles available for checkout with circulation. This method of borrowing holds interesting implications for circumventing the liscencing problems as well as introduction a physical resource which can be checked out, managed, and charged late fees. Also, because this is a physical product, it can be donated, sold and treated as an owned eBook provider.

Ultimatly, none of the methods of purchasing and maintaining a digital collection matches with the security and rights of purchasing physical copies of books. In order to solve this very serious problem to the library model, digital copies of library texts should be exempt from DRM restriction, protecting the status of library collections, and providing them the right to purchase, resell, and donate digital texts. Under my proposal, libraries could not copy their digital eBooks for resale—which would be the equivalent of photocopying entire books to sell to consumers, but would under the expansion of the one-book/one-user business model.

Other exemptions to library resource use in the digital age have already been proposed such as library exemption from copyright law under certain circumstances:

Under the Library Exemption, a library can reproduce one copy of a work and distribute that copy without being liable for copyright infringement, if the following conditions are satisfied:

‘The reproduction or distribution is made without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage; Any reproduction or distribution made by an employee of the library is being done within the scope of their employment; The collections are open to the public, or available to those other than researchers doing research in a specialized field; and There is a notice of copyright on the work.’(19)   (Van Le, 2010, 137)

If these ideas were applied to the resources of libraries as a public service in a legal way, it would not only benefit libraries, but also the public as the publisher panic about libraries subsides.

The library who sells their own copy of an eBook is doing nothing differently than a library selling a copy of a book off of shelf that is out of date, damaged, or excessive to the collection. Public libraries generally work under a tight budget where books are donated, sold and collected. Without the ownership of its materials, the current library expenditure model would be corrupted. The DRM protection of books (following iTunes music methods) holds greater implications than those set on music. Libraries have always bought materials to provide a service to the community—and provide access to education.  Providing eMaterials to users serves interesting challenges as publishing companies attempt to lease boos to institution and limit ownership throughout the general public. By choosing appropriate acquisition models, and identifying self-protective methods of providing eBook services, libraries will take a step forward into the changing digital world. It is important that libraries take a stand in how the materials they provide are accessed.

Works Cited

Amazon Inc. (2012). Kindle e-Reader with Wi-Fi, 6″ Display. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0051QVESA/ref=sa_menu_kdptq3

American Library Association. (2012). EBook Business Models for Public Libraries (p. 6). Retrieved from http://connect.ala.org/files/80755/EbookBusinessModelsPublicLibs.pdf

Ashcroft, L. (2011). eBooks in Libraries: An Overview of the Current Situation. Library Management, 32(6/7), 398–407. doi:10.1108/01435121111158547

Moyer, J. E., & Thiele, J. (2012). E-books and readers in public libraries: literature review and case study. New Library World, 113(5/6), 262–269. doi:10.1108/03074801211226346

Polanka, S. (2011). Purchasing E-books in Libraries: A Maze of Opportunities and Challenges. Library Technology Reports, 4–7. Retrieved from alatechnologysource.org

Van Le, C. (2010). Opening the Doors to Digital Libraries: A Proposal to Exempt Digital Libraries From the Copyright Act. Case Western Reserve Journal of Law, Technology & the Interne, 1(134), 121–147. Retrieved from http://heinonlinebackup.com/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/caswestres1&section=12

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