The E-Book problem

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If there was a theme for the first day of the Colorado ILL Conference, it would have to be e-books.  I am by no means an expert on e-books, but I do know that e-books pose a huge problem for libraries and interlibrary loan in particular because publishers are extremely reluctant to release control of electronic content.  Publishers are (rightly) concerned with pirating, but when it comes to libraries, they are very suspicious.  Publishers just don’t “get” the library model of loaning books for free, and libraries don’t understand why publishers are marking up their electronic material over 300%.  This New York Times article discusses some of the issues that publishers have with libraries.

But the thing is, almost all libraries maintain control over who can check out e-books (and regular books as well) by requiring a library card or student id. Most libraries use a DRM (Digital Rights Management) system with time limited licenses that will no allow you access after a set time, usually 14-21 days. Libraries generally own a limited number of licenses per book and manage them exactly like a real book.  That is, once specified number of copies have been checked out by patrons, you cannot check out a copy until someone else’s license expires or is returned.  Libraries usually offer e-books in one of three formats MOBI, ePUB, and PDF .  These formats are popular and have DRM that supports time-limited checkouts. In 2011 Amazon has removed MOBI from most or all US libraries and replaced it with AZW and TPZ, Kindle eBooks.

Many of the digital library collections are currently hosted by Overdrive. Overdrive and other e-book hosters do not sell e-books to libraries, they lease the rights to them.  If the contract was ever discontinued, then a library will lose that whole catalog.  The issue of ownership vs. renting is a large issue for libraries.

E-books are increasing in popularity, and patrons are demanding more choices.  Libraries are struggling to meet that demand, while making the experience easy and intuitive.  As a result, the e-book scene is rapidly changing, and new library models are appearing every day. Tomorrow I will discuss what Douglas County Libraries in Colorado have done to retain ownership of their materials.

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About Ellie Kohler

I'm the Access and Learning Services Librarian at Rockhurst University, and was a founding member of the ILL Special Interest Group. My specialties include interlibrary loan, instruction, reference, circulation, reserves, and wrangling 40 (or so) student assistants. I continue to defy the librarian stereotype by keeping a cat-free household.
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