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Arrant Scandal in the Digital Stacks

June 19, 2014

stackBy Alan Kilpatrick

Last month, I travelled to the annual Saskatchewan Library Association Conference. I attended an engaging session on ebooks and the future of libraries called From Gatekeeper to Gardener: the E-publishing Revolution. James LaRue, the former director of Douglas County Libraries (DCL), presented the session. James is a frequent speaker on library and technology issues. DCL is a public library system in Colorado that has had a great deal of success with ebooks. DCL is often described as having gone from being the worst public library system in America to being the best public library system as a result of this ebook success.

During the session, James explained that “a revolution in publishing presents either a tremendous opportunity or tremendous threat to the viability of libraries.” It is widely known that ebooks are becoming increasingly popular. Demand for ebooks is astounding and the number of ebooks published has increased exponentially. Unfortunately, the popularity of ebooks forces an existential challenge on libraries. Librarians have blogged about this ebook crisis frequently in recent years:

The Ebook Cargo Cult – In the Library with the Lead Pipe 
Ebooks for Libraries: Still a Ripoff – Annoyed Librarian
I’m Breaking Up with Ebooks (And You Can Too) – Librarian in Black
You’ll Need a PhD To Make Sense Of The Pricing Schemes Publishers Impose On Libraries – Forbes Magazine

According to James, the fundamental challenges libraries face with ebooks are:

• Loss of ownership and access
• High cost
• Sacrificing the user experience

Libraries have few options when it comes to purchasing ebooks. Large publishers have little incentive to sell ebooks to libraries at favourable terms. Publisher ebook licenses often dictate a library does not own its ebook collection. Rather, these licences dictate that libraries lease a sort of temporary access. When a library decides to unsubscribe, the ebook collection disappears from the collection. Cost is a major challenge as ebooks are far more expensive for libraries than they are for individual consumers. The conference session also suggested that libraries are sacrificing a smooth user experience. Ebooks are usually inaccessible from a library’s catalogue. Library patrons are required to leave the library website in order to access ebooks.

This situation, James asserted, is a scandal. Libraries are giving up access, ownership, and the user experience. Librarians need to resolve these challenges. Otherwise, the continued relevance of libraries is at grave risk. DCL has worked to resolve these challenges through an ebook experiment. The library developed new software with the Adobe Content Server to create a single library catalogue that can access print and ebook resources. Next, the library began purchasing self-published ebooks and ebooks from smaller publishers that were keen to collaborate with the public library. Finally, DCL worked with a lawyer to create an alternative agreement to traditional ebook licenses. This alternative understanding allows DCL to own the ebooks it purchases. To date, over 900 publishers have agreed to sell ebooks to DCL based on this alternative agreement.

Canadian law libraries face unique challenges acquiring legal ebooks. Legal publishers in Canada have been to slow to respond and lagged far behind fiction publishers in creating ebooks. However, the DCL ebook experiment demonstrates that success is possible. Please leave a comment letting us know what you think about ebooks.

(Reposted from Legal Sourcery)



Dear Publisher Partner – Evoke
Douglas County Experiment / Model – Evoke
Douglas County Libraries – Homepage
• Douglas County Libraries Strikes New Deals With Publishers to Own Ebooks – The Digital Shift
• The eBook Experiment – Douglas County Libraries
• LaRue and Associates Consulting – Home

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