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#6 eBooks and eReaders and libraries, oh my!

2011 March 25
by nditullio


eBooks and eReaders have taken the country by storm.  What does this mean for libraries?

Well, first of all, let’s go over some terms:

eBooks are books in a digital format.  eBooks are not new.  Project Gutenberg, one of the most popular public domain eBook services, has been around in one form or another since the 1970s.  Libraries already can offer eBooks through public domain services such as Project Gutenberg, while some offer eBooks through subscription-based services, such as Overdrive, EBL, and ebrary.

eReaders are specialized devices on which you can read your eBook.  Some examples of eReaders are the Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony eReader. You could even use an iPad or smart phone as an eReader.

What does this mean for libraries?

Libraries want in on the eBook phenomena, and in a large way, they can be.  Services such as Project Gutenberg have been helping libraries in this respect for years.  The problem often comes when patrons want to be able to check out eBooks from the library and read them on their eReaders.

Publishers and ebook manufacturers have created use structures (usually citing digital rights management” or DRM) that appear to make it incredibly confusing, difficult and cost-prohibitive for libraries to loan eBooks to patrons. To read more about this critical point, please see this excellent blog post by Meredith Farkas (also linked in step 1 of our discovery exercise).

In addition, not all eBook subscription services are compatible with all eReaders.  Some eReaders support services such as Overdrive and some do not — to see a rundown of eReaders that support Overdrive, take a look at this guide.

To complicate matters even further, even if an eReader is compatible with the subscription service your library is using, it can be difficult to keep track of which eBook format goes with which eReader.  Check out this chart that attempts to make sense of it all.

So what can libraries do? 

Right now, we can make sure we know what eBooks we can offer our patrons, and we can look into what eReaders support them.  We can market the eBooks libraries do have access to.  And we can look into new and innovative ways to share eBooks (and possibly eReaders).  Additionally, since the world of eBooks and eReaders is changing so rapidly, we can make a dedicated effort (or appoint someone on our staff) to keep up with the latest news and developments and consider their implications on our services and patrons.


Discovery Exercise:

  1. Read this post by Meredith Farkas on eBooks and libraries.
  2. Explore this essential eBooks and eReaders reading list by Sue Polanka (related to an August 2011 ALA Techsource Workshop she presented) — please don’t skip this. There is some must-read information here!
  3. Just to be current on the latest information regarding eBooks now being available through Overdrive for the Kindle, read this September 2011 Library Journal article: Amazon and OverDrive Roll Out Kindle Books to Libraries — don’t miss the link to the article about privacy concerns.
  4. And now, for a little hands-on experience — go to Project Gutenberg.
  5. Do a basic search for a classic or public domain work.  A good example would be Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
  6. Click on the title of the work to open up the book record.  Looking at the downloads, would you know which file to select if you had a Kindle?
  7. Open up the basic HTML version of the text.  Do you find this easy to read?
  8. On your blog, add a link to the book record that you viewed and post to your blog about this exercise. (Please include “Beyond Method #6″ in the title of your blog post.) Was Project Gutenberg easy to use?  Do your think your patrons would be interested in a public domain service like Project Gutenberg? If a patron wanted help putting a title from Project Gutenberg on an eReader, do you think you would be able to help them?


More Information for the Curious:

  1. Although written in 2010, COSLA’s eBook Feasibility Study for Public Libraries report still contains some good information and is worth a look if you have time.
  2. Read one librarian’s view on the legality of lending eReaders.
  3. Read this great two-part article on lending eBooks in your library:
    1. Lend me your ebook, Part One.
    2. Lend me your ebook, Part Two
  4. Read this pair of articles outlining the respective benefits of eBooks and paper books:
    1. 5 Ways that eBooks are better than paper books
    2. 5 Ways that Paper books are better than ebooks

Finished learning this Advanced Dance Method? When you’re ready, move on to Method 7.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. June 19, 2012

    eBooks & eReaders seem to be popping up everywhere. All types of libraries are using them for a variety of purposes. It’s good to read how different libraries are using Kindles and Nooks and about their policies.

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