Friday, September 14, 2012

E-Books for Libraries per Joe Konrath's blog

Therese and Morgan have made an executive decision to repost this as IMPORTANT INFORMATION with all credit to Joe Konrath and the wonderful Texan librarians Mike and Linda for this inside look at the innovation taking place within our library system.

Joe sez: I recently got an interesting email from a library in Texas.

In short, they're setting up their own internal check-out system for ebooks, and are seeking to buy ebooks directly from authors and publishers.

I asked if they wouldn't mind doing a guest blog discussing some of the issues libraries are now facing with the rising popularity of ebooks. They graciously replied, and here it is...

Mike and Linda: Thanks to Joe for giving us a chance to talk to you about libraries and eBooks!  We’re Michael Saperstein and Linda Stevens, librarians from Harris County Public Library, a large public library system in Houston, Texas.  Please grab the beverage of your choice and find a comfy chair, because we’ve tried to summarize, but this might take a minute.

First, if you haven’t been to the public library in a while, it has changed quite a bit.  Rather than being on shush patrol, you’ll find librarians teaching eReader classes, performing storytimes and early literacy activities, helping jobseekers, playing video games with teens…you get the picture.  Then there’s the books – paper, audio or electronic, we buy them, we promote them, and we connect them with readers, in person and online.

Now for the issues:


Libraries are not able to purchase all of the eBooks we would like to purchase due to publisher and author concerns about copyright protection in the digital format.  Only two of the big six publishers will sell eBooks to libraries, and those pricing models either limit us to a low number of checkouts or charge us more than twice the retail price for a book.  Very few picture books are available for us to purchase, even though small children are a large part of our customer base and we often use digital books in storytimes.  With adult fiction titles, we can’t always offer complete series because of format availability or publisher restrictions.  Some publishers would even like to implement a plan that would force people to come to the library to check out eBooks, rather than being able to do it online, which kind of defeats the purpose.  Librarians are also making the adjustment to focus on providing access for our customers through leasing or subscription, rather than only owning items to be a permanent part of a collection. 

Better Public Experience 

Because of the way we have to purchase electronic content, our customers often have to jump back and forth online through multiple access points, instead of simply finding a book and clicking to check it out.  This can make the borrowing experience quite confusing and complex.  Then add the confusion about which formats match which devices.  We’re not just providing materials for one type of device, our customers use Kindles and Nooks and iPads and cell phones and devices we probably haven’t heard of yet.  We are constantly learning about all of these devices because we are now free tech support for the public.  Our customers show up with their new eReader in a box, and we teach them how to use it.

Collection Decisions

Public libraries have always selected print books based on professional reviews and public demand.  This doesn’t always work with eBooks.  With eBooks, we have to focus on availability and public interest.  We are also rethinking our relationship with self-publishing.  Many libraries, such as ours, are now looking for ways to purchase eBooks directly from authors and independent publishers.  Keep in mind that this is all in a time of reduced funding and we’re trying to build a huge, new, popular digital collection while maintaining a popular and relevant print collection.

Library Benefits 

So what does the library have to offer?  Book borrowing habits are changing, mainly because of eBooks.  People are more open to impulse browsing and discovery of new authors and titles and the library provides the collection and staff to aid them in this discovery.  Once they’ve discovered a new favorite, the quest for reading gratification leads to backlist purchases.  (We speak from personal experience on this.)  Libraries can never afford to purchase in sufficient quantities to discourage sales.  We don’t just house a collection in our buildings or on our websites; we actively promote reading and books, no matter the format.
We’ve probably told you more than you ever wanted to know about libraries and eBooks, but please feel free to contact either of us for more information. We can be reached at

Joe sez: I like libraries. I like librarians. I like innovation.

So I sat down and had a think, and then called up my frequent collaborator Blake Crouch and bounced some ideas off of him.

Read the complete article and Joe's ideas at the original post.

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