Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Digital Books and Public Library Acquisitions

Taylor, L. (2008). Cutting edge books: The impact of digital books on public library acquisitions. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 20(1), 51-61. doi:10.1080/08963570802157412.

Reading the article above made me think about working with our Technical Services department and what we have done or at least tried to do in this area. The Hancock County Public Library certainly isn’t cutting edge but we do listen to what the patrons ask for and most of the staff is open to change and realize that there are things out there that they need to be aware of as librarians.

The first step into ebooks was a 2004 beta test with our automation vendor and a company they were working with to provide this service. At that point in time there were few readers on the market and the ebooks were in PDF format and could only be viewed on a computer. The ebooks we were working with could be transferred to a PDA or smartphone but the process was very cumbersome.

Our first shot at ebooks wasn’t a disaster but it was pretty close. The process was difficult for patrons to use. They were limited to viewing on their computers and in 2004 laptops were still rather expensive compared to desktops and it would be another 5 years before laptop or notebook computer sales would outpace desktop sales. PDAs and smartphones have also changed dramatically in that time as well.

The major issue we faced with ebooks was DRM (Digital Right Management). They want to make sure that the material is not copied and a checkout time needed to be imposed and that was all done with Adobe Reader and DRM. We ended up with a few hundred ebooks and even after a decent marketing campaign and the use of the ebooks in programs such as children’s storytime, they never really took off. We had a few users but after a while we started to have issues with the ebook vendor and versions of Adobe Reader. At first it was safe to tell patrons to make sure they have the newest version of Reader but then the vendor started to have issues with Adobe Reader as updates to the program were made. This made it tough for patrons to use the ebooks and difficult for us to support.

For our patrons it seemed to be a service that wasn’t quite where it needed to be. As we struggled with ebooks we looked into downloadable audiobook services but as the article says, it came down to some services were for iPods only and others for Windows media compatible players. We also purchased a subscription to Tumblebooks (http://www.tumblebooks.com/library/asp/home_tumblebooks.asp) for the children’s department. This product shows the book online but also reads to the child and they can follow along and many books contain animations. It is all web based and very easy to use. It has been a big hit with the kids.

We tried downloadable video (MyLibraryDV) but that ended up going under and we also tried the Playaways (http://www.playawaylibrary.com/index.cfm). This product was mentioned in the article and it sounded great at first. However, the units did not hold up well and after only a few checkouts many were damaged. We also had to keep batteries in the units and many patrons complained of the sound quality.

Over the last 12 months we have received more comments and requests for downloadable audiobooks and ebooks than ever before. As they article states, and I think is very true, advancements in mobile devices (think iPhone launch) as well as the connections, speeds and available content was a “perfect storm. At first it was downloadable audiobooks but with the release of the Kindle and apps to read ebooks on many phones iPods came more requests. Amazon, Apple and other vendors made it so easy for people to purchase material they wanted to know why they couldn’t do it at their library, of course that is another story.

From our standpoint how could we offer downloadable audiobooks and ebooks to patrons when there was no one stop shop that would work with iPods and Windows devices. It seemed to be an ever changing mess when it came to DRM, downloadable content, and device compatibility. The time between the story was published and today OverDrive announced that they could work with iPods, Windows Media players and they also offered ebooks. We had been looking at OverDrive and similar service providers for about 2 years and in the beginning there was always the compatibility issue but also a cost issue. The services were expensive and possibly difficult to justify in the current economic environment.

As with everything else technology related, service or products get better and prices come down. We would be able to go with OverDrive and have enough money to build a solid beginning collection. My main concern is ease of use and the amount of staff time needed to support this service. After talking to a few libraries that offer the same service, I found out that they had not had a lot of issues with users and their devices. What first came to mind was our original ebook disaster. I heard about the same thing from all of the libraries about the service. There user interface was easy to use and the patrons already had experience transferring material to their devices already and this was a very similar process. Another issue they did bring up was the catalog records and linking to the download site. It can be done, they provide help, and it just takes staff time to get it done.

After a soft launch and weeks of staff training and testing both the audiobooks and ebooks are really working out. The patrons that have used the service are happy and we have had very few reported issues. This allows patrons to check out downloadable material and we don’t have to worry about overdues, lost, stolen or damaged material. The selectors are happy and things are going well. The only problem now is dividing money between different formats.

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