June 20, 2024

Large California Consortium Joins Movement Toward Library Ebook Ownership

Califa Library GroupThe largest library network in California is going to adopt the pioneering ebook business model of Colorado’s Douglas County Libraries, which allows libraries to truly own, not rent, their ebooks.

The San Mateo-based Califa Group, which brokers services and products for 220 multi-type library systems (1000 buildings), has seeded the project with about $30,000 and will purchase ebook files directly from publishers as well as an Adobe Content Server to manage the digital files.

“We want to be part of the solution,” said Heather Teysko, Califa’s project manager. “We don’t want to be reliant on vendors, on leasing materials from a platform. We want to have ownership,” she said.

Califa has already had discussions with Dzanc Books of Ann Arbor, MI, and the Publisher Association of Los Angeles.

“Jamie sent me his list of publishers so I’m going to follow up with all of those people,” said Teyso, referring to Jamie LaRue, the Douglas County director, who over the past year has signed deals with numerous publishers to buy ebooks outright and house them on the library’s server. “What I would love to see happen is maybe some other publishers see it as viable as well,” Teyso said.

Califa plans to hire a tech manger by the end of this month and then buy the content server, and she said the goal is to have a prototype to demonstrate at the American Library Association’s conference in Anaheim, CA, in June.

“I’m delighted to see librarians taking action, not just reacting to the pronouncements of a handful of vendors,” said LaRue. “I’ll be very glad to have other people testing solutions, sharing code, working together to get the attention of publishers and authors, and generally being bold enough to do what hasn’t been done,” he said.

The consortial factor adds another permutation to the Douglas County equation.

“Not everyone can do what Douglas County can do, but if we pool our resources and cooperate, then we can build something that all the participating libraries can have access to,” Teysko said. “Smaller libraries would never be able to do something like this on their own, at least not right now.  But through working together cooperatively, they will have the same results,” she said.

Teysko said meeting LaRue at ALA’s Midwinter Conference in Dallas was “infectious,” and the tech-savvy innovation was a natural for Silicon Valley.

“We said we have to get started on this project,” Teysko said.

Numerous other libraries and organizations have inquired about the model, including Lyrasis, the North Carolina State Library, the South Carolina State Library, the Queens Public Library, the Tampa Bay Library Consortium, and others.

“Most are seriously investigating the model, if not quite at the point of adoption,” LaRue said.

At the Public Library Association’s conference in Philadelphia this week, there will be a panel on Thursday morning called “Getting Econtent to Your Customers.” The panel will include Lisa Hickman, the sales and marketing manager for Dzanc Books.

Dzanc has already sold its entire catalog of 300 titles DRM free to Douglas County, which applies the DRM and loans the book on a one-book, one-user model, and Dzanc is willing to do the same for Califa.

“We just decided the middleman is killing the libraries and why do we need a middleman with digital files,” said Hickman.

Buying the entire catalog comes with a library discount of about 30 percent, Hickman said, which is commonplace in print sales to libraries but a rarity in digital agreements. Individually the titles range between $7.99 and $9.99.

“Hopefully, we are helping libraries so we can get this whole ebook craze figured out,” Hickman said, adding that “Buy Now” buttons in library catalogs and discovery in the library help Dzanc’s business.

“The ‘Buy Now’ link is like free marketing for us, and if libraries loan a book by one of our authors that someone loves then they are going to buy another book by that author,” she said.

Califa will assemble a core collection and then approach its membership about collaborative collection development with members contributing money on a tiered scale  (based on the number of borrowers a system has).

Patrons from any member library will be able to borrow books once they have been authenticated by Califa. The books will be in the EPUB format and work on a variety of devices.

Califa has engaged Henry Bankhead, the library manager for adult services at the Los Gatos Public Library, as a consultant.

“I was a paid library school intern at Adobe and I am hoping to get with them to discuss how they are marketing the content server,” said Bankhead. Los Gatos was one of the first libraries to deploy an integrated ebook channel in its Boopsie mobile app.

“I am quite interested in Jamie’s Vufind front end and in the potential for open source to be a potent solution for integrating ebook checkouts in the ILS,” Bankhead said.

Califa is also using the legal framework that LaRue erected with the help of Mary Minow of librarylaw.com, which includes a letter that spells out terms of engagement with publishers (but is not a formal contract).

“Douglas County pioneered this and we are so grateful for that,” Teysko said. “We don’t need to be dependent on a vendor, and publishers don’t need to be afraid of us,” she said. “We’re excited to see how it goes.”

The Califa Group also sponsors statewide projects such as Librarians’ Internet Index, California Library Catalog, and the California Digital Collections.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


  1. Thanks for the continuing coverage, Michael. But a reminder that MANY talented people at Douglas County Libraries are making this happen: my IT director Monique Sendze, my Support Services director Rochelle Logan, our collection development staff (Deb Margeson and new Mover and Shaker Jordana Vincent), our cataloging pioneers Julie Halverstadt and Nancy Kall, and many others, not least our Board of Trustees. Launching a new infrastructure for managing e-content takes a team. And is totally worth it.