Pre-#uklibchat thoughts on ebooks in libraries

This evening’s #uklibchat is on ebooks and thinking about it I realised I’m a bit behind the times with what is happening in the world of ebooks.

As a solo librarian in a small library with, until a couple of months ago, no library management system and with no access management system I hadn’t really delved into the world of ebooks since I finished my MA two years ago. I’m not sure those things are necessary for an ebook collection, but it’s something that seems complicated and would need time to think about to set up (and budget!). I’ve had brief conversations with people working in similar libraries to me about the subject, but it’s just not reached the top of my to do list yet.

So I decided to quickly remind myself of what I used to know about ebooks and try to update myself.  A summary is below for anyone else who would find it useful.

  • Licensing electronic content vs. purchasing print content: Buying ebooks is not the same as buying print books.  You purchase a license to access the content, not the content itself.
  • Ebooks come in a variety of formats – the two main ones are EPUB and PDF
  • There are multiple ebook platforms with differing interfaces – wonderfully confusing for our readers.
  • When purchasing ebook need to consider:
    • Is access perpetual?  What happens if supplier goes out of business?
    • What loan length is allowed? Can readers choose the loan length? Can they be returned early?
    • How many concurrent users can look at an ebook?
    • Is the total number of loans limited?
    • What counts as a loan? A 30 second look equivalent to flicking through a book on the shelf?
    • What is the cost in relation to the print book?
    • Interoperability across devices?
    • What access systems (e.g. log ins) are needed for library users?
    • Library users privacy?
  • There are lots of different licensing models from different publishers.  It’s confusing.  Have a look at this 2013 Thinkpiece from IFLA for (a lot) more information.
  • European copyright law allows publishers to withhold ebooks from libraries because they can sell ebooks with licences which do not permit lending (Let libraries lend ebooks, CILIP webpage)
  • Open access (OA) books: OA books are a bit behind OA journals, but they’re following.  There’s now a Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) with over 3000 books from 120 publishers (as of 6th October 2015).  You can even download their metadata.
  • Epublishing makes self-publishing easier.  Good, but be careful of quality.
  • Ebooks allow use of more than just text and static images.  Where is the boundary between ebook and multimedia content? Ebooks and gaming? Does it matter?  Implications for cataloguing?
  • There’s the whole e-reading debate too.  Do our readers actually want to read ebooks?  My answer – it depends! (A more in depth answer would need another post, or more likely several)

3 thoughts on “Pre-#uklibchat thoughts on ebooks in libraries

  1. therealjadejustice says:

    Very interesting break down, I work at a college that has over 6,000 ebooks on offer for the students, and everyday I am asked, “Is there a real book I could borrow?”
    So it really does depends on the users. I found it difficult to study online/onscreen vs a hard copy of a book!
    Maybe the next generation will be taught exclusive through e-learning and will prefer this format? Only time can tell! Great blog!

    • Lizzie Sparrow says:

      Thanks for your comments. Yes, when I worked in a library that had ebooks I was forever being asked for the ‘proper’ book. I do wonder how much preference print vs. digital reading material will change for generations who learnt to read with ebooks as well as print.

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