November 29, 2023

EBL Touts Its Versatility | Series: Exploring Ebook Options


Ebook Library (EBL), the library ebook platform launched in 2004 by Australian company Ebooks Corporation, has had worldwide success. More than 600 institutions, encompassing thousands of libraries, around the world now use EBL.

The majority, 81 percent, are academic libraries, with another 15 percent of the client base made up of special, government, and corporate libraries; the remaining four percent are split between public and school libraries. Higher education institutions large and small, including three LJ will look at more closely—the University of Texas (UT) at Austin; Wellesley College, MA, one of the famed “Seven Sisters” schools; and Fairfield University, CT—are among EBL’s many clients.

EBL offers a wide range of nearly 300,000 titles from hundreds of publishers in the PDF format, with more publishers added regularly; in August, four new publishers were announced, including Columbia University Press. It has also embraced a demand-driven acquisition (DDA) option that has been a large part of its appeal for many institutions. (DDA has also been called patron-driven acquisition, or PDA.)

With DDA, libraries get access to a large ebook selection, depending on budget, size of the institution, and settings chosen, and pay for rentals or purchases only when particular books are needed by users. Titles can be accessed by multiple users at the same time (which EBL calls “Non-Linear Lending”), and libraries can customize purchase triggers according to their needs. EBL offers the DDA option for all of its titles, which can be downloaded and read offline on laptops or devices, with a growing number of EPUB-format titles becoming available.

Other services, such as ebrary and MyiLibrary, also use DDA as part of their model. Still, Kari Paulson, president of EBL, touts EBL’s long experience in the area, also laying claim to “the most sophisticated tools for managing access permissions, reporting, profiling, and budget.”

EBL offers streamlined workflows for acquisitions (both DDA and not), “including EDI [electronic data interchange] ordering, free MARC records with automated delivery, automated holdings with OCLC, real-time expenditure reports, and discovery through most discovery services, with EDI/electronic invoicing coming soon,” Paulson says.

Paulson highlights several aspects of the model that are key to EBL’s value proposition:

“We think it is important that our model (1) allows a free browse period to the full text based on time only, not clicks; (2) that it offers short-term loans that enable libraries to pay a percentage of list price, making more titles available to patrons than they might otherwise be able to afford and providing a viable alternative to ILL [interlibrary loan]; (3) that all of our books, once purchased, allow simultaneous use; (4) that every book in our catalog is eligible for demand-driven acquisition; and (5) that our books can be downloaded to virtually any device,” she says.

Looking ahead, EBL will be adding new features, including a new version of its library administration site LibCentral, that will include streamlined acquisition tools and additional analytical tools, says Paulson.

“Doing things right”

Wellesley College, with about 2,300 undergraduates and some 350 faculty members, is a relatively small institution, but it had specific needs with regard to a library ebook platform. According to Steve Smith, manager of collections management and preservation at Wellesley’s Clapp Library, EBL was chosen there in 2009 owing in large part to its pricing model, which allowed the library to do short-term loans of ebooks and only buy heavily used titles; the multiple-user lending feature “meant that users would never be turned away—a serious flaw with all single-user only models.” Smith also cites the downloadability of texts and the large selection of publishers as other key factors in the decision.

Wellesley signed on in September 2009 with a selection of 25,000 titles, which is up to 60,000 titles today. The setup fee, Smith told LJ, was about $3,000, and there are no annual fees or charges for things such as MARC records. The only costs associated with EBL are the cost of purchase, or the fractional costs of short-term loans.

Initial setup took about two to three months, Smith says, with some extra time added because the school initially wanted to manage records using Serials Solutions. The library has more recently transferred its profile management to Baker & Taylor–owned YBP Library Services, which is an EBL partner in North America. “If a library is already a YBP customer, working with them to set up their EBL PDA profile will make many things much easier,” says Smith.

Smith says that he has seen anecdotal evidence that the downloadability of texts, which is an EBL option, is a popular feature for students. He also says that he has heard little feedback from students, good or bad, regarding EBL, and “we take that to mean that EBL is doing things right.”

“We have looked at other packages and PDA providers, but none of them can compete with EBL,” Smith says. The library also uses subscriptions and packages from ebrary (since 2003) and Springer (since 2009) as well, but he says that “EBL wins because of its nonlinear lending model that allows for simultaneous use of all its content.”

The short-term effect

Fairfield University is slightly larger than Wellesley, and its EBL model is slightly different: it uses the 24-hour, multiple-user, short-term-loan EBL design. “We believe that providing the complete EBL collection to our users on a short-term-loan basis is a very cost-effective way to provide access to a much more extensive selection of ebooks than a PDA plan,” says Keith Stetson, the collection development librarian at Fairfield University’s DiMenna-Nyselius Library.

Fairfield University has been involved with various ebook services over the years, Stetson told LJ. The university participated in the NELINET (now part of LYRASIS) shared collections in 2001 and 2005 and purchased some subject sets in 2009. In 2008, Stetson recommended the use of ebrary’s Academic Complete (about 77,000 titles currently), as well as the entire EBL collection. EBL took a few months to set up, he says, with a $3,000 one-time start-up fee.

The short-term-loan model works with a deposit account to purchase short-term loans for students, with the loans costing no more than ten percent of an ebook’s full purchase price. This has worked out to an average of $6.55 per book in the 2012 financial year, Stetson says. Fairfield customized the system so that loans that cost $35 or more require mediation and don’t happen automatically, the better to keep costs down; alerts at particular amounts can be arranged to keep tabs on the deposit account. Nearly 15,000 successful title requests were reported in this past financial year, up more than 13 percent from the previous year, plainly showing ebooks’ usage growth.

It may help cut print purchasing costs in the long run, as well. “We have seen a trend that faculty are not ordering as many print books, and we attribute this mainly to our providing access to over 360,000 ebooks in our catalog,” says Stetson, though he says that the library continues to have a policy of making available print copies of ebooks upon request.

Gone to Texas

UT Austin is a much larger institution, with some 50,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students and more than 2,700 academic staff members. UT Austin also employs EBL, as well as ebrary and other ebook services. But, like the smaller institutions mentioned, UT Austin finds some advantages in the EBL model.

Starting in 2007, UT Austin established an EBL system in which an ­ebook purchase would trigger after three short-term loans. After watching expenditures closely and staying within budget, the university has since increased its budget over the past five years, says Susan ­Macicak, University of Texas Libraries’ interim collection development officer. It currently has a maximum of 325 lending days per owned title per year before triggering a second ebook purchase, a limit it very rarely exceeds, Macicak says. “The Non-Linear Lending model works well for a campus our size because most titles [include] multiple simultaneous users so we don’t need to worry about buying extra copies,” she says.

The usage data that UT Austin can track via EBL is granular, indeed. From September 2011 to August 2012, the last complete school year, 21,012 unique titles were read—for 2,382,627 minutes in total. Usage can also be tracked by invoice, publisher, or an array of other categories. The most read ebook at UT Austin since 2007? Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State, a 2003 book by historian Randolph B. Campbell, read for a total of 43,873 minutes.

UT Austin is hardly abandoning print books, however, though EBL’s ebooks serve as a valuable supplement to print collections. “We do allow EBL to duplicate what we receive in print, because with a readership of this size we have ample audiences for both formats,” Macicak says. “We can also add EBL titles as they are demanded by our readers, as we have always done and still do with print.”

However, it is clear that DDA has become an integral part of UT Austin’s collection plan. “Our demand-driven programs, such as EBL, enable us to drastically expand the universe of books available to our readers,” Macicak says, “while trimming the costs of acquiring, parking, and maintaining print books, many of which may never be read.”