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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Friday, June 8, 2012

ebook options for libraries

At a recent retreat of the Colorado Public Library Directors, it was clear that a lot of libraries want to provide ebooks to their patrons. It's also clear that they very much like the simple principles asserted by the Douglas County Libraries model to date. Those are:

- ownership. Libraries need physical possession of the file.

- discounts. Libraries are volume purchasers, and as such, deserve discounts.

- integration. With possession of the file, we can do a much better job of providing a simple, powerful and consistent user experience.

A few other principles matter, too:

- a Common Understanding (see the eVoke website, below), rather than complex contracts and licenses for each publisher, that spells out the terms of our business agreement. For instance, that we limit use to one at a time, using industry standard DRM, and that we'll buy extra copies of the file to meet the demands of simultaneous use (within budget constraints, of course).

- a "click to buy" option for our patrons, to serve as a customer convenience, a demonstration of our value to publishers, and with the expectation that libraries share in the sale. So here's today's attempt to map out some sense of the possibilities.

[Click the image to expand it.]

Let's spell out what that means:

• Joining a "library consortium" means there is a common ILS, a content server, and integrated discovery and delivery. For many, this would mean an ILS change.

• "Do it yourself" means you either outsource content hosting or not, but then customize discovery and delivery to your local catalog. It presumes a little in-house technical savvy.

• "Library owned web service." This doesn’t exist. But suppose some regional (or national) library took an Adobe Content Server and Vufind (using the work already done by Douglas County Libraries, and as documented at the eVoke site at evoke.cvlsites.org), and delivered a separate service that allowed for a mix of consortial or independent collections – just leaving aside issues of ILS integration. This is a library-owned version of OverDrive. It might solve things for a lot of libraries, although the lack of integration isn’t good.

• Vendors. The usual suspects, and more coming, I’m sure. At this moment, of course, NONE of them adheres to the principles above.

What’s still missing is a common platform for purchasing and distribution. I think a shared Acquisition system, pre-populated with all the vendor information DCL and others have shared, would be a great collaborative library project. Likewise, a dedicated server for the distribution (sale) of ebooks both to libraries and patrons might have to be a library project, too. Both of these could and should be national. And of course, neither of the first three solutions can address providing content for the proprietary pre-Fire Kindle.

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