In Limbo, but Thinking . . .

July 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm (eBooks, ereaders, Libraries, OverDrive)

So I haven’t blogged for a while, but with good reason.  I have been going through huge changes at work.  I am no longer on the main floor of the public library, but now linger within its depths training to become Head of our Technology Department, which is fantastic.  I do not think that leaves me out of being a librarian, the type that assists the public day-in-and-day-out, but instead allows me to follow my pursuits in how technology and e-content can further impact the library’s presence within our community.

With all that said, I recently attended an E-Summit in New Jersey the other week, and not only left with my head spinning, I also parted with many questions about the future of  e-books and where our library’s  role will fall within this realm in the future.   First, there are more players, a.k.a. vendors, on the market.  3M just released a lending model for ebooks. ebrary and EBSCO are also players. In addition to more vendors, there are also a variety of lending models cropping up.  One that I found interesting was patron-driven acquisitions, which depending on the vendor, allows patrons to develop the collection and the library footing the bill.  I do not think this is the best model, but the option is interesting.

However, my main concern is with OverDrive.  Recently, I began purchasing ebooks for our library, outside of what I obtain for the Southern New Jersey consortia, which we also participate in.  My fear lies in the fact that OverDrive may currently be the main vendor for public libraries, but the competition is starting to gain strength.  In the future, if my library decides to no longer be a part of OverDrive and use an alternative vendor, we will lose access to all the ebooks we “purchased” because we no longer have the platform to deliver the e-content to our patrons.  In essence, we do not “own” anything we buy unless we stay with OverDrive.   Basically we could reluctantly be stuck with the vendor, or simply lose access to what we purchased, because the model does not allow us to own ebooks.  Unless you stick with OverDrive you are only borrowing access for a price.

This is not the best plan for public libraries.  Why invest our funds into a model that actually denies us ownership to the e-content we believe we own, but actually only merely have for as long as we feed into the vendor’s expenses?  What we need to do is actually purchase e-books directly from publishers and actually own the rights to circulate them to the public.  The Summit allowed me to walk away with the notion that libraries need to cut out the middle man, the vendor, and deal with publishers directly.  It is truly the only way we can gain control of the e-book situation.  Libraries need to stick up for ourselves and stop allowing vendors to sell us products that only sound fantastic from a sales person, but in all actuality only deliver half of a product.   We are wasting our budget on skeletal lending models when we need to be direct with publishers.

So where does this leave me?  My library is now holding off on our purchasing with OverDrive and trying to find alternative avenues.  I also think it is time for other libraries to do the same.  It is time to take a step back and analyze what we are truly getting and find direct and alternative ways for purchasing e-books.



  1. Helen Cassidy-Blakovich said,

    Interesting read, Mel. Who would you talk to about the vendor issue? City council or the township, or the county itself? It may be time to get together with fellow e-librarians and discuss the matter, before it becomes an issue. You may not lose the contract with OverDrive now, but the other vendors, and the nature of competition, will continue.

    good luck!

    • melissabrisbin said,

      The vendor issue really falls on the shoulders of libraries. It is up to us to go out there and open the lines of communication, because frankly, publishers are not going to come to us about the e-book issue.

  2. Andrea said,

    Thank you for this very direct discussion of the ownership/licensing conundrum that Overdrive forces us into. I think you are right, we need new models that allow us to own content, but at this point there aren’t very many that are successful. I fear it will be a tough road negotiating with publishers, but it’s not unheard of. And I don’t think we should count out the possibility of working directly with authors. Three projects to consider:

    – Jamie LaRue and Douglas County Libraries in Colorado are working on a hybrid purchase some, license others model for their e-content.

    – Open Library (from Brewster Kahle and the Internet Archive) allow libraries to scan already-owned content to digital format allowing for ownership within copyright.

    – GlueJar (Andromeda Yelton, fellow 2011 EL is one of them) is working on a model where authors are paid to relicense their content under a creative commons license.

    • Andromeda said,

      Or, you know, what Andrea said :).! We’re busy designing our service right now so I am eager to hear your opinions on where we should be going & happy to talk to you if you have questions.

  3. Andromeda said,

    Have you been following what Jo Budler, the state librarian of Kansas, has been doing? They left OverDrive following a price increase and she’s claiming that the contract language meant they were free to take the content with them when they went. Of course there are lots of lawyers involved now and I expect OverDrive has tightened up the language, but that might be interesting to follow.

    • melissabrisbin said,

      I’ll have to check that out, since it goes against what I learned at the e-Summit.

    • mullarkea said,

      Jo Budler is a personal hero of mine these days but, alas she’s in a fairly unique situation. Kansas had a contract with Overdrive that was originally drafted using words like “own” and “purchase.” Then earlier this year, when it was time to renew, they sent her a contract with hugely increased fees and substantially tighter language specifying that they will not own the content if they leave Overdrive. Not satisfied by these terms and unable to negotiate a solution Budler decided to go with a new vendor and is making all the good faith efforts to get publishers to agree to transfer permissions to the new vendor.

      Unfortunately those of us who either did not have an earlier contract with the “ownership” language, and those of us who did but then signed a new contract with the “license” language are not going to be able to benefit from her efforts.

      Moreover it’s not clear that Budler will prevail on this issue as there are certainly lots of lawyers talking about it now and I expect a court will have to weigh in before all is said and done.

      Still, I have much love for Jo Budler and it is DEFINITELY something I think is interesting to follow.

  4. Karla Ivarson said,

    Melissa–you really cut to the heart of the problem with libraries and any electronic materials.

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