e-books in libraries

The most recent #UKLibChat discussions focused on the challenges - and opportunities - of integrating e-books into library collections.

The #UKLibChat initiative (as featured here) has been running for approximately six weeks.  Topics discussed so far include student advocacy and library marketing.  This week it was the turn of e-books to come under the Twitter community's microscope.

Whilst the questions regarding e-books covered a broad range of topics, it was still possible to identify several themes (and concerns) from what was being discussed. Cost implications, their restrictive and confusing licensing agreements, and their place alongside a hardcopy collection were all frequently referred back to.

Concerns over costs and multi-readers

The costs of e-books were discussed from the point of view of the user and the library. Initial set up costs were raised as a limitation for those wishing to make use of e-books, both in staff time and training, as well as the expense of an e-reader on which to view them. Few libraries have been able to purchase e-readers due to the prohibitive costs, placing the onus on the user to provide their own, creating difficulties in less affluent areas. At times during the chat, it felt as if there was an underlying fear of a Betamax type situation holding libraries back, especially with the current divide between the Kindle and Sony e-readers combined with the rise of tablet computers.

Academic vs. leisure

A distinction emerged between 'academic' and 'leisure' texts. It was clear that academic and specialist libraries currently face difficulties with uptake. The failure of e-books in these sectors was contrasted to the success of e-journals and the ease with which they can be downloaded or printed as a PDF files. E-journals do not face the restrictive licensing structures that create so much frustration for both library users and librarians. It was suggested that if the ability to download chapters as a PDF files were introduced, then the success of e-books may improve.

e-books in public libraries

E-books in public libraries appeared to have a warmer reception from their users, possibly due to differences in the way in which they are used. Numerous local authorities now appear to be providing e-books, mostly via Overdrive, with positive feedback from users. The main complaints appear to be publishers not meeting the demand for titles, and the inability to download them directly from a library's OPAC (the user is instead redirected to an external provider's website). Frustration was also voiced at the inability to download e-books remotely, though this varies depending on the licensing agreement. Where this was the case, it seemed to be a missed opportunity.  The policy tried to ensure that library visits remained static, but it risks frustrating users, failing to meet a potential opportunity to reaching new people, and by offering remote products, attract more people to the service.

Future innovations

Of particular interest was a nod towards the future of e-books. One participant mentioned that they had recently used a song book which contained midi files of the music described therein. An interactive element was further explored through a mention of "The Fantastic Flying Books Mr Morris Lessmore", a novel way of presenting a book for the iPad. Perhaps smaller publishers will lead the way with e-books, keen to embrace new technological possibilities?

You can read more about this, and other, #UKLibChat discussions, on the blog

Samuel Wiggins is currently studying for his MA Librarianship at the University of Sheffield. Upon graduation he will take up the position of Information Officer for a London law firm. His interests include legal information and 'big picture' library ideas. Sam is on Twitter @LibWig, and runs a blog at libwig.wordpress.com.