June 2, 2023

Tough To Read


Librarians continue to cite the lack of access to ebook best sellers and other “in-demand” titles as the number one problem preventing patrons from checking out more ebooks, but usability issues are a close second, according to “Ebook Usage in U.S. Public Libraries 2013,” a survey of 553 public libraries conducted by LJ and sponsored by Freading.

Seventy-two percent of respondents described the lack of in-demand titles as a key problem. In the next few years this issue may ease somewhat, though not completely; libraries will continue to deal with high prices for institutional ebook purchases, loan caps, and restrictive licensing terms for the foreseeable future. However, major publishers that once refused to license ebooks to libraries—including Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Penguin, and Hachette—have either resumed sales or launched pilot tests to explore the possibility of licensing titles for institutional lending.

In aggregate, 71 percent described various ease-of-use issues, including complaints about the complexity of the downloading process, digital rights management (DRM), and difficulties discovering content, with many respondents specifically citing the inability to discover ebooks in their library’s OPAC. These numbers may also drop in future: last year saw several promising developments on the usability front, with 3M, OverDrive, and Baker & Taylor (Axis 360) all announcing integration initiatives with major ILS vendors, which will make it possible to discover and check out ebooks directly from a library’s OPAC.

Frustrations with ease of use were most common in libraries serving large populations. Fifty-six percent of respondents from library systems serving 25,000 or fewer people described ease of use as a problem. In systems serving 500,000 or more people, 83 percent described it as a problem. In addition, 43 percent of all respondents said that they heard some variation of the request “I need help downloading ebooks to my device” on a daily basis, while 44 percent said they heard this request at least once per week.

The 2013 LJ ebook usage survey is available for free here. The 120-page report contains extensive trend and benchmarking information, including data on collections, demand, budgets, and circulating ereader devices, with much of the information broken down by region and/or market size.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.