City Hall

City Hall

Demand for e-books growing at libraries

But multiple hurdles still exist in providing digital option

November 27, 2012


Visitors to the Tonganoxie Public Library are letting director Kelly Fann know that they aren’t there just for traditional paper books.

“I do a one-on-one with a patron at least once a day with an e-reader device, whether it’s an iPhone, an iPad, or a Kindle, or a Nook, you name it,” she said.

Though a recent national study found that 62 percent of the population was unaware e-books were available at local libraries, that’s not the case for the Tonganoxie library’s regular patrons.

“Most of our community knows that e-books are available, it’s just not the ones they want, or the hold list (for the e-book) is just as long as it is for the book form, if there even is the book available that they want,” Fann said. “So there are a lot of frustrations to get over.”

As e-reader devices become more common, area libraries — like libraries across the country — are facing multiple obstacles when it comes to providing their community with the digital option of the books on their shelves. But library directors say staying up to date with e-books is an important service to the community.

The Lawrence Public Library’s reference desk often gets patron questions about checking out e-books, said Lynn Koenig, adult services librarian. So, when the library moves to its temporary location in the former Borders building on New Hampshire Street to await construction of its new facility, it plans to offer either e-readers or tablets loaded with certain genres of books for patrons to check out.

“We definitely want to do something like that,” Koenig said. “We were going to try to do it sooner, but we decided it would be a new service we provide when we move to that new, temporary location.”

At the Basehor Community Library, patrons are a little bit ahead of the curve. For the past year, the library has been offering e-reader devices for check-out and has been able to offer a wider selection of e-books than many libraries. But Diana Weaver, the library director, explained two major obstacles for libraries with e-books in a presentation for the Association for Rural and Small Libraries that she called “Aiming for a Moving Target:” what publishers decide to make available for libraries, and the cost of keeping up with technology. There also are conflicts between competing e-book technologies.

“Things change constantly in that market and especially in the way that publishers and vendors relate to libraries,” she said. “Probably one of the things that people don’t realize is libraries can’t get a lot of the e-books that you can get from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.”

Nationally, the number of people who read e-books is growing, according to surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. In mid-December 2011, 17 percent of American adults reported reading an e-book in the previous year; by February 2012, the number had increased to 21 percent.

So area library directors say the need to provide e-book services is important not because paper books are becoming obsolete — indeed, the same Pew surveys found 88 percent of e-book readers also reported reading paper books — but because e-books are becoming an important part of providing the community with reading material.

“When you look at the decision to go into e-books, it’s really long-range — we have to start building the ability to have it and to solve the problems up front, otherwise, it will pass us by, and there will be a whole group of people who will never have a shot at it,” said David Hanson, director of the Linwood Community Library. “I think it’s a solution you have to invest in, otherwise you won’t be there when whatever happens to e-books happens to e-books.”

Weaver said it falls in line with libraries’ mission to educate the community and to provide equal access for all.

“Our purpose is to teach people to learn about the things that they hear about or they are curious about,” she said.

‘Whole new generation’

Kim Beets, director of the Bonner Springs City Library, also said the new method of reading seems to be encouraging more people to read.

“I think e-books are creating this whole new generation of readers,” she said.

Library directors say most patrons aren’t aware why libraries are limited in what e-books they are able to provide. One roadblock is limitations publishers are enforcing that are not enforced on paper editions.

“Publishers are in somewhat of a bad situation because they’re looking at what happened to music,” Weaver said. “When music became digital, with Napster and everything, it really tanked the music publishers’ market, and the publishers are afraid the same thing is going to happen with the book market.”

So some publishers aren’t making e-books immediately available — for example, the Harry Potter series just became available for libraries in the e-book market. A few publishers won’t even allow sales of e-books to libraries.

Other publishers are ramping up costs: Random House has increased pricing to libraries by 300 percent. Another publisher increased costs by 104 percent for libraries. Best-seller “Fifty Shades of Grey” costs $9.99 as a consumer e-book; libraries are charged $47.85 for the same digital title. On printed books, libraries typically get discounts from consumer prices.

Digital rights management software in each e-book file ensures that it is used basically in the same way as a paper book. E-books can’t be copied, and once a check-out period is up, access to the book files is blocked, though they are not deleted from the device.

And publishers are enforcing limits on the number of times an e-book is read — for example, Harper Collins has decided a digital copy may be checked out just 26 times. After that, a library would have to repurchase the book.

Weaver said publishers view this as 26 people reading a book that is only being purchased once. But she said publishers don’t consider that those 25 people might not have bought the book anyway — they might not have read it at all, or borrowed it from someone else.

Publishers “are looking at libraries more closely than they ever have before,” she said. “They’re not recognizing the value libraries always provided for them, which is discovering new authors, promoting the very culture of reading, which has always built their business. But they’re not seeing that right now.”

Technical challenge

Digital book technology in itself is another roadblock for libraries: The digital book formats are not all compatible with the multitude of e-reader devices.

If libraries buy a file for Amazon’s Kindle, it won’t work on the Barnes & Noble Nook — forcing them to buy every e-book at least twice. The various formats and e-reader devices also make it hard to keep library staff trained on their use, as well as adding difficulty in training the public on how to use them. Weaver said when her library tried to have an e-reader class in January, their patrons brought seven different types of Kindles alone.

“We’ve had classes, and basically we’ve just come down to saying bring in your device and we’ll teach you how to use it,” she said. “So the idea that we can keep up with this technology makes it a real challenge for us.”

Hanson said this is libraries’ “second time at the rodeo” with downloadable content. The first time, libraries tried to support audio books, but the service providing audio books for libraries didn’t support iPods, which became the dominant portable audio device.

“The lessons learned from that experience are that if you can’t deliver on the hardware of choice, it makes it incredibly difficult,” he said.

That lesson is being repeated with e-books, leaving local libraries searching for a solution. In Kansas, anyone with a state library card can check out e-books through the state’s EZ Library. However, that service, provided through technology conglomerate 3M Co., does not provide e-book formats for older versions of one of the most popular e-readers, the Amazon Kindle.

“Kansas has been really, really innovative as far as pushing libraries into the e-book market and really making them available,” Beets said. “But a big barrier has been that a lot of patrons have the Kindle, and (Amazon) only wants to work with one vendor.”

That vendor is OverDrive, and a consortium of Kansas libraries is joining that service in order to open e-book checkouts to patrons with Kindles.

The Basehor library has had a contract for the past year with OverDrive through the Sunflower E-library consortium. Made up of about 20 libraries in the state, consortium members sign individual contracts with OverDrive for access to a shared collection, but each individual library can purchase just books for its own patrons.

The Bonner Springs and Linwood libraries are joining the consortium and will launch OverDrive by the end of the year; Bonner hopes to have e-readers available for checkout after the first of the year. Fann said Tonganoxie is trying to join the consortium to launch in early 2013.

However, the Lawrence Public Library formerly belonged to OverDrive, Koenig said, and quit the service because it found the state’s EZ Library to be easier to use, despite the Kindle-related drawbacks.

“Even with some of the glitches we’ve had with 3M, it still works better,” said Koenig, who said the library has been issuing state library cards to allow people to use the state system. “We’re getting a lot more use with it than I think we did with OverDrive.”

The Johnson County Library has found another solution that will work with newer Kindle Fires. Andrew Wathen, collection development manager, said the library has a contract with book distributor Baker and Taylor for its digital medial library, Axis 360, which the library is currently testing and hopes to make available to patrons by the end of the year.

Wathen said because the new Kindle Fires function as an Android device, users can download applications to read different file formats from Axis 360.

“So the new Kindle is going to be fine,” he said, adding that the library has purchased $300,000 worth of e-book content. “We’re very excited about delivering the product, which we think will be very versatile and works on most devices.” He said information about that service will be posted on the library’s website when it is available.

Other libraries aren’t ready to take further steps. Kathy Johnston, director at the Baldwin City Library, said while it has some patrons ask about e-books, the library staff directs them to the state service. They don’t have plans to provide a service for Kindle users just yet.

“We hope that the state library would get that ironed out, and we would contribute to that,” Johnston said. “If not, then we may reconsider.”

Koenig said she knows the state library has been in talks with 3M about working out a deal with Amazon, and she hopes Amazon will realize its exclusivity is hurting its book sales.

“Honestly, from a public service standpoint as a librarian, if Amazon doesn’t work something out, they will be losing out,” she said. “It’s going to be a problem for Amazon if they don’t get on the bandwagon.”


Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 6 months ago

Seems like the answer is for people to purchase their own reading material and not demand others do it for them. This is a bunch of crap. The library is there to house and store bound paper books, not purchase digital readers for check out.

The libraries know they are at the end of their useful life and are not scrambling to find ways to justify their survival. We should re-think the building of the new one on Lawrence.

NotRelated 5 years, 6 months ago

As usual, you show yourself to be clueless, but by all means preach on. Libraries are not dying they are evolving. I know you are against all services like the bus, libraries, so how about you start putting out your own fires and start chasing your own criminals. While you are at it build your own roads to drive on. Your attitude is tiring and the majority of voters have not agreed with you, so move on!

Cant_have_it_both_ways 5 years, 6 months ago

No wonder you and people like you grow up with nothing and totally dependent upon the taxpayers for your very survival. Just today, I Iearned Kenidyne or whatever the name of that place on the west side of town that builds computers, has started massive layoffs and a total re do of their business model.The upcoming mandates blessed on them by your style of progressive government has led to many to loose their jobs. I wish you the best, including when you die, you die with a full stomach of goods or services that you mooched off of some working persons family. When you get it figured out, then you are more than welcomed to respond to my posts. If not, then I ask you to refrain from your desires.

NotRelated 5 years, 6 months ago

Dear Bitter Old Man, I am not reliant on any services. Businesses are failing because of poor business models. Again, I repeat, the majority of voters did not see it your way, not in the Presidential election, not on the library expansion, and not on the bus, so you see you lost. See you here next time you feel like whining.

NotRelated 5 years, 6 months ago

I'm sure you mean Microtech computers and not Kenindyne who apparently makes ratcheting straps. Microtech by the way can only blame themselves for going under. Building cheap desktop computers for industries is a dying business and you can thank the free market for that, not reforms in health care.

I do not mooch, but I do believe in giving someone a leg up for the betterment of community and civilization. This does not mean endless welfare or handouts. However we as a nation are being left behind in sciences, technology, and math. We are left behind in how we care for the sick and the poor. Our infrastructure is not the world leader as it once was. Your politics as usual does nothing to improve any of these.

You are a dying breed and the majority has shown in recent elections such as the votes on the T, the library expansion, and the re-election of President Obama that many of us our willing to try something besides what you profess.

Libraries give a chance for life long learning, something you may want to look into.

Tammy Copp-Barta 5 years, 6 months ago

Notice this comes out AFTER it's approved to pour money into a new library. How many of us told them we were moving to the digital age and libraries were going to be a thing of the past. Just keep pouring money into a money pit.

JackMcKee 5 years, 6 months ago

Thank Cromwell. He and the usual suspects led this town by the nose right down that road.

gr 5 years, 6 months ago

Maybe they'd be better providing tape for real books.

Is that right, a tape manufacturer is selling software? Yikes!

Tomato 5 years, 6 months ago

3M is a massive multi-national conglomerate. Tape and Post it notes may be the only products you're familiar with, but they represent a tiny fraction of 3M's revenues.

They are a publically traded company, you can find out a lot about them on their website, including details about their major business segments.

But to call them a tape manufacturer is like saying that China's only major export is rice.

ThePilgrim 5 years, 6 months ago

In the market, charging $47 for a book would mean that it would not be bought. But they have libraries, and government in general, at their mercy. It never would have occurred to me to ask the library to provide an e-book. Not because I prefer paper books - just the opposite; I live on my Kindle Fire. But I wouldn't go to the library and expect to get an e-book.

mom_of_three 5 years, 6 months ago

Some people do not want to use ebooks. There are studies that show many college students want good old fashioned books - easier on the eyes, etc.

mom_of_three 5 years, 6 months ago

The problem with e-books is what is reported above - the pricing structure. Some publishers are charging outrageous amounts for the book or putting limits on it. Do they do that with hardcopy books - I dont think so, and libraries are struggling to figure out what the difference is.. The point of a library is to provide materials for patrons - some want ebooks, some what hard copy, some need dictionaries, etc., and many people dont have the money to buy every book they might need or want to read a part of. Think about students - if they had to buy every book that they want to look at for research - way too expensive. Either e-books are going to have to come up with an intelligent pricing solution or they may go out of business. And Kindle and Nook may have to do some pushing along the way.

gr 5 years, 6 months ago

Go out of business? Not if some government organization props them up. All they have to hope for is to be chosen and then they don't have to care.

What potential for fraud or bribery.

Lawrence Morgan 5 years, 6 months ago

First of all, this is a superbly written article.

And, Mom_of_Three has some very valid points.

As for the people who don't care for libraries, how many books do they read otherwise each month? I suspect many don't read any, but watch television instead. This is no substitute for books for pleasure and research. Many of these people care mostly that the library is not built, along with any other city services that reach out to all kinds of people.

My concern, which I've mentioned before, is that branch libraries were not considered instead of one main library. Then, people all over town could go to their branch library, and they could also pay utility bills, for instance.

I'm all for libraries - but not for the current "monstrosity" - and that is why I will never give to the library foundation. If they had researched and funded branch libraries, that would be a very different thing, indeed.

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