How do libraries acquire and manage ebooks?
January 16, 2012 8:53 AM   Subscribe

How do public libraries select, purchase and manage ebooks?

I am an author and my books are published by an independent publisher. I grew up at my local public library and consider it one of the biggest influences on my life. Given that ebook lending in public libraries seems to be skyrocketing and, given my publisher's commitment to DRM-free ebooks, it should be a match made in literary heaven, where the trumpets are replaced with the serene sliding of pages being turned. Or at least high-quality lossless audio recordings of same.

The trouble is that while I understand how libraries acquire and manage print books, I'm absolutely confounded by the processes shrouding their electronic siblings. Could librarians share how that world works?
posted by burnfirewalls to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's currently a total mess. And the options are slightly different for audiobooks than ebooks. Most libraries purchase their ebooks through some sort of middleware vendor such as Overdrive or 3M, or booksellers that have "lendability" options like Amazon. There are a few other vendors like NetLibrary/Ebsco but I don't know as much about them. This list should give you an overview, though I think it's a little out of date and Overdrive-centric possibly. That website, MobileRead, might be another good place to ask this question. Libraries sign multi-year contracts with these vendors that gives them rights to the content [usually 'purchased' as individual titles] that are more like leasing than like buying. To the best of my knowledge very few, if any, libraries do any ebook purchasing that is outside of some sort of large scale solution like this
posted by jessamyn at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

There was a UPI story that made the rounds yesterday that looks at this as well.
posted by Blake at 10:58 AM on January 16, 2012

When you find out the answer, please let us know.

Jessamyn hits it right on the head. It is pretty messed up right now to say the least.

Pretty much libraries have handed the entire thing over to 3rd party vendors to run and administer.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 1:14 PM on January 16, 2012

Best answer: In the case of Kentucky public libraries (where I work), on top of the Overdrive vendor there's an added middleman-- a state-level consortium that does the actual selecting and purchasing the ebook licenses on each library's behalf. They also administer the interface (Kentucky Libraries Unbound) that serves as the catalog/shopping cart for people.

And yes, it's a mess, but patrons are still eating it up, hoop-jumping and rationed checkouts and all. I just hope it continues to (slowly) streamline and doesn't get derailed by a particularly extra-greedy corporate interest.

Anyhow, regarding self-published ebooks in libraries--you might find what Douglas County Public Library in Colorado is doing interesting. They bought an Adobe Content Server so they could license and distribute ebooks, including self-published ebooks. I participated in a webinar that featured their director, and he reports that the self-published books are doing quite well in terms of circulation.

He also related that one of his initial concerns was the quality of the self-published books. "But then we realized what was already on our shelves," he said.

Another cool thing (though it's in print, not ebook format) that a few libraries are trying is print-on-demand services like Espresso Book Machine that allow for the printing of self-published stuff.

So for libraries that have forward-enough-looking directors (and the ca$h), there's no question that libraries can play a key role in supporting independent and self-publishing authors.
posted by Rykey at 3:05 PM on January 16, 2012

Here's the Washington Post article from a couple of days ago that was referenced in the UPI article.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:32 AM on January 17, 2012

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