By Michelle Lee
Public libraries in Wisconsin have decided to pool their resources and create a $1 million fund to lease new econtent in 2012.
The collaborative project, which is sponsored by the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC), is expected to expand the offerings in the consortium’s Digital Download Center by about 30,000 items, said Jim Trojanowski, chairman of the consortium and director of the Northern Waters Library Service. The collection currently has about 14,705 titles and 1.2 million checkouts, but the collection has been less than robust because of inadequate funding.
All the member libraries can access the download center through their online catalog, and residents throughout the Badger State — whether they live in a rural, suburban or urban community — will be able to download ebooks, audio books, videos and music from the expanded collection.
“We’re dealing with some libraries with populations as small as 200 people – they will have the same access (to the materials as people in) Milwaukee and Madison,” Trojanowski said. “For people like that, this is a tremendous asset.”
About $700,000 of the funds will come from the state’s 17 library systems and the 385-member public libraries. The remaining amount will come from a $300,000 grant from the state Department of Instruction’s Division for Libraries, Technology and Community Learning.
The intent is to set aside funds for digital content every year, and libraries will set aside about five percent of their acquisitions budget every year for electronic materials, said Stefanie Morrill, director of the Wisconsin Library Service, which is managing the project.
Seventy percent of the money for 2012 will be allocated toward developing the consortium’s OverDrive ebook and audiobook collections, building upon the approximately $550,000 that WPLC has spent on OverDrive content since 2005. A report on digital media purchasing strategy for the statewide funding pool concluded there were no “vendors or products in the library digital media marketplace that are quite ready to compete with OverDrive.”
But the report recommended giving other companies, such as 3M, ebrary, and Freading, a “few more months to develop their products,” and then make a recommendation in April 2012 about how to spend the remaining 30 percent of the shared funding pool.
The report’s authors also felt that the size of the WPLC pool “should give the consortium’s representatives leverage to negotiate favorable terms on price and features in the products we are purchasing.”
Lisa Strand, executive director of the Wisconsin Library Association, said she was impressed by the “visionary thinking” of the libraries to collectively bring econtent to patrons throughout Wisconsin.
“I think it’s an impressive amount of resources to be allocating in these really challenging times for libraries,” Strand said. “Obviously our library community feels it’s essential to embrace new technology and show them how it works and show them libraries are the place to get your information resources no matter what the format.”
The big spike in overall ebook usage over the past few years prompted many library officials to consider expanding their digital collection, said Jeff Guilderson-Duwe, director of the Oshkosh and Winnefox library systems. An ebook feasibility study done by the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) provided another “big burst” for expanding digital content, he said.
The project took flight in May when the state Division for Libraries, Technology and Community Learning held its own ebook summit and recommended forming the collective purchasing arrangement.
The group purchase allows smaller libraries access to more materials that they would not be able to afford on their own financially, said David Weinhold, director of the Eastern Shores Library System.
And the timing of the digital collection expansion is perfect to help those who receive electronic readers and listening devices as holiday gifts, Weinhold said.
“We’re gearing up for the holiday season when all the people open up their Kindles and eBook readers on Christmas Day,” he said. “There will be something for them at the library.”
Evan Bend, the library services manager for the Outagamie Waupaca Library System, said expanding the digital content offered to visitors is important to helping libraries stay relevant, especially since “libraries are at the front line of helping patrons.”
Bend said he still had some concerns about borrowing electronic materials, such as privacy issues and if libraries are “putting themselves at the mercy” of vendors and outside companies for materials.
“In the old days, you buy a book and put it on a shelf. No one will take it away, or say you can circulate it three times and then you have to pay for it,” Bend said. “Even with licensing agreements, (electronic) books can disappear.”
However, Bend said the library consortium’s decision to offer more digital content will benefit patrons in the long run, even if some of the details remain in flux.
“The key is that even though there are big questions still unanswered from publishers and vendors, it seems likely that it’s an area where libraries need to take a leap before they are all answered,” Bend said.
Guilderson-Duwe, from the Oshkosh and Winnefox library systems, said he hopes the larger digital collection will create a richer experience for visitors. “What I’m hoping to see if folks who already have ereaders and audio listening devices have a rich collection of resources at the (digital) site,” he said.