By Francine Fialkoff, LJ Editor-in-Chief
The panel on ebooks strategy in public libraries took a turn to the practical, with the focus on platforms (OverDrive, B&T’s Axis 360 and Blio, and 3M’s Cloud Library ebook), collaboration through consortia, selection, purchasing, and marketing of ebooks.
Two things were crystal clear, however: ebooks use has exploded in public libraries. And OverDrive isn’t the only kid on the block. In answer to questions from attendees on how to select a vendor, those who have added other ebook platforms along with OverDrive all said they were looking at providers’ maintenance fees and at their own financial resources.
That’s where consortia come in. Multnomah County PL’s Stephanie Chase knows the advantage of consortia from both her current library in Oregon and her previous one in Vermont. In both states, “cost was a barrier,” she said, so consortial buying was the way to go. There are challenges to the consortial route, however, she said, including coordinating training and purchasing. Nevertheless, she urged librarians to work together, collaborate, and develop a single, consistent message to publishers and patrons. “We can provide a door into the world of [e]reading…if we take some of the fear out” of ebooks, for staff as well as users.
Alene Moroni, collection development manager at King County Library System, WA, is about to go live with B&T’s Axis 360, while retaining the OverDrive platform. “I’ve long been concerned about sending our customers to OverDrive” instead of the library’s catalog, which she said is best for access, with browse lists and other discovery/readers’ advisory tools. Right now, OverDrive’s app accounts for most of the distribution, which has gone from 538 ebooks downloaded in 2004 to 41,268 downloaded in September 2011 (YTD is 281,893 through October 12).
Still, Moroni said, Axis 360 has “all the benefits of B&T’s Title Source III,” so ebook purchases can be made along with regular purchasing. “We struggled with going to another platform other than OverDrive,” she said, “but we will maintain both going forward.” Axis 360 with Blio is good for picture books, cookbooks, nonfiction, she said, but they’ll focus more on OverDrive for fiction, to avoid overlap in purchases.
Like KCLS, Richland County Public Library, SC, will be adding another ebook delivery platform: the 3M Cloud Library. With only about ten percent of patrons downloading ebooks, Susan Lyon, Learning Engagement Manager, launched an ereading initiative—the eReady Learning Takeovers—that would help “sustain our presence in the community.” The team of eight went into restaurants, the zoo, Starbucks, Best Buy, etc., inviting people to download ebooks. “We want to empower people,” said Lyon. The eReady team has become so popular that businesses and organizations are inviting them to do demos.
Robin Bradford, fiction collection development librarian at Indianapolis-Marion County PL (IMCPL), had some good advice on selecting and paying for ebooks. First of all, she pointed out, the ebook collection doesn’t have to mirror print. While the top ten ebook circs go to the likes of Grisham, Patterson, and Roberts, 11–20 include no-name romance authors. “If sci fi or chick lit or Westerns are slow in print, you might try them in e to see if they get some traction,” she said.
Where does the money come from for ebooks? You may get some money from grants, “but while we’re waiting for the funding fairy godmother, we have to juggle,” said Bradford, the same as we’ve done when adding other formats. At IMCPL, they cut from newspapers, magazines, and print reference.
“In June 2006, we had 403 titles in our downloadable audio collection; now in October 2011, we have 31,000 titles.”
All of the participants said they look at holds daily to see what’s moving and what’s needed. “The holds list for print hasn’t changed [i.e., gotten smaller],” said Bradford, in response to a question. “It seems like there are more readers.”