Ninety-five percent of public libraries currently offer ebooks to patrons, up from 72 percent in 2010, and 89 percent in both 2012 and 2013. However, money remains the biggest impediment for libraries looking to add ebooks or expand collections, according to Library Journal’s fifth annual Ebook Usage in U.S. Public Libraries report, sponsored by Freading. The growth in demand for ebooks has cooled during the past four years, although as the report notes, this “is only because [ebooks] have become less of a novelty and more mainstream.”
When ebooks or other digital materials are not readily available in libraries, publishers “are missing a key conduit to a market that [they] can’t tap any other way,” Rebecca T. Miller, editorial director for Library Journal and School Library Journal, stated in her opening remarks for the “The Untapped Retail Channel: Public Libraries” panel on Friday, May 30 at the 2014 BookExpo America (BEA) conference in New York. Leaders from top library ebook and streaming media companies weighed in on this issue during an hour-long discussion.
On April 12, Library Ideas will launch Freading 2.0, an upgrade of its existing pay-per-circ ebook platform. This will include several new features, such as MARC records supplied by OCLC for all of the 30,000 titles now offered by the service, along with an updated website with enhanced search functions, and new navigation tools that will help users find books grouped by category. This summer, Freading will also begin offering foreign language ebooks, beginning with 2,000 titles in Spanish.
Now in their third year, the LJ/SLJ Ebook Usage reports track long-term trends in public, academic, and K-12 school libraries, presenting detailed information about how libraries are adapting to this technology. Sponsored by Freading, Ebooks on EBSCOhost, and Follett, this year’s reports are freely available for download.
Ebrary’s flagship ebook product is Academic Complete, but the ProQuest unit has also offered for two years a parallel product in the public library channel called Public Library Complete that some libraries are finding a congenial fit as they sort through the growing number of offerings on the market.
When EBSCO acquired NetLibrary from OCLC in March 2010, it obtained a fully formed ebook platform that already had a large collection of about 200,000 ebooks from 500 publishers available in 17,000 sites worldwide. The challenge was to smooth out this platform, now known as Ebooks on EBSCOhost, so that it could migrate to the EBSCO interface and there be remade.
COSLA believes that ebooks will be the preferred format for reading materials in the future. As a result, it has set a goal for all U.S. public libraries to offer ebooks and downloadable media by 2015. As a step in that direction, LJ is publishing a series of articles that closely examines the various ebook platforms available, including this environmental scan.