or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

NELA-ITS Workshop on Ebooks

   June 11th, 2010

Book PodiumI'm at the Portland (ME) Public Library today, for the ebook workshop from the New England Library Association's IT Section.

I'll be live-blogging, so check back for updates, and also follow others with #nela on Twitter.

Notes from Elizabeth Thomson

  • Idea for using ereaders in libraries: buy one for the ILL department, for them to download public domain books to and loan, instead of the patron waiting weeks to request all those out-of-print books from far-away libraries.
  • Idea for doing ebook collection development: buy the trash romance or how-to sex manuals that someone would by too embarrassed to buy or check out or be seen reading on the subway
  • "The Kindle is about reading, not the device." It seems to me the iPad is the opposite - it needs to dazzle people with movement and flashy colors, which either enhances the text, or terminally distracts from it, depending on your point of view.
  • Ebooks needs a business models - publishers, bookstores, libraries need their own. People buying print books because they feel guilty or don't want bookstores/libraries to die out is not a business model. People will do what's most convenient in the end, regardless of how they feel.

Notes from Tom Corbett, Cushing Academy

  • Libraries need to be in the reading an research (information) business, not the book inventory business (just like people who used to be in the horse and buggy business instead of the transportation business went out of business)
  • Cushing's logic: books are no longer the best approach for their goal (supporting 9-12 students), library staff were focus on the wrong skills (inventory management rather than information access and aggregating data), provide 21st century education with 21st century tools (kids also learn how to use technology, which is important for the future)
  • "It's not information overload, it's filter failure"
  • Brutal Facts:
    1. Most high quality information will never be free
    2. Information in the 21st century is almost entirely created and delivered digitally
    3. By it's nature digitization ties information technology and information literacy together
    4. The filters and skills need to successfully navigate the digital world are not the same as the pre-digital world
    5. Libraries need Digital Rights Management (DRM)
    6. There will be a better medium for reading than paper (it's the content, not the paper)
    7. It doesn't really matter what libraries think. Markets happen. (Kindle is Amazon's #1 best-selling and highest-rated product)
  • Digital content delivery should be "just in time" not "just in case" (which is what print is, and also Overdrive's model of collection-development-by-ownership) - focus on managing access, not managing collection inventory
  • EBook Library gets it right with "non-linear lending" - you get access to hundreds of thousands of titles, and libraries pay rental fee when the book is checked out (also option to buy if a title is heavily used). You get X number of hours of book use, which can be mixed and matched amongst titles that get used - you pay for the use of your patrons, not an inventory of ebooks

Notes from Jeffrey Mayersohn, Harvard Book Store
Speaking about the Espesso print-on-demand machine. This is the way of the future, because Amazon has way more inventory than can be kept in a single location.

But the single location is the advantage that bookstores have - local staff, local interest, and with print-on-demand, local production of that same large inventory. Use bookstore shelves to be well-curated showroom.

Books never die, because with print-on-demand, everything stays in print. Also much easier for new authors to promote their self-published books.

  • 1/3 (about 34) of Espresso machines are in libraries (many also in academic book stores)
  • Replace copies for very old, out-of-print copies
  • Provide copies of rare book collections to patrons

What's next?

  • Full color interiors
  • Expanded public domain access
  • Expand access to "current" books
  • Continued publishing of local authors

Notes from Emily Smith, Belmont Public Library
Donor provided 16 Kindles to circ at library

How we circ:

  • 14 days, 1 renewal (same as book)
  • Local requests only, check in and out at Belmont circ desk only - must turn it on to see it works at check out and check in
  • 1 per person, $1 fine per day, $259 replacement cost, $15 charger, $35 cover
  • No age restriction, but we mostly buy non-kids title to limit kid interest, and circ them from the adult section
  • Circ in padded bag with charger, laminated policy, Kindle with leather cover, Getting Started guide
  • Put VHS box on shelf with titles listed on back, and when someone wants Kindle they bring the box to the circ desk, where Kindles are kept


  • Purchase alerts, holds list, bestseller lists
  • 75% fiction
  • Amazon requires credit card to purchase, which the library doesn't have, so we have corporate account (which is paid via purchase order and gift cards and person account - it is complicated)
  • We deregister when it circs, and ask patrons not to register to their account (which they can do, and add content, but if it doesn't get deregistered then other patrons can buy books on that first patron's account


  • Turning it on/off has been a challenge for some patrons - switch is very small. Some patrons put it to sleep rather than turning it off, and screen saver kills the battery
  • Some patrons delete books accidentally - library can get the books back free, but it is a pain
  • 5-way control is difficult to use, but people eventually figure it out
  • Doesn't work with Overdrive, not all titles are available through Amazon, and not all titles have text-to-speech
  • Be sure to get the 2-year extended warranty, which makes replacing damaged devices easier

Notes from Gerry Deyermond, Memorial Hall Library (Andover, MA)
Use Audible.com for eAudio digital audiobooks, and circ library's Otis players as well as download to patrons' devices.

Most users are 40+. Patrons can request downloads by email, and work out time with staff when to come in to download. Use Excel to track circulation (players circ for 3 weeks).

MVLC also uses Overdrive - this has picked up the slack for patrons who can't get to the library Almost 10,000 iPod-compatible book circs since 9/2009; almost 1,000 ebook downloads since 5/2010.

Notes from Chris Cooper, Southern New Hampshire University
Use 2-pronged approach to ebooks

  1. Ebook Downloads for popular works: Sony eReady and Kindle, patron-driven - library will buy any book under $25
  2. Ebook Databases for academic/professional titles: databases such as NetLibrary, Books 24x7, Sarafi Tech Books, ACLS Humanities ebooks to support business, IT psychology and other programs

Ebook Downloads

  • Successes: Positive publicity (mentioned on campus tour), efficient use of funds, broad popular content availability, show engagement with technology
  • Challenges: Consumer product, work flow issues (only tech services can load books, which slows things down), rarely find academic titles students need, number of units (5 kindles, 2 eReaders), registration, damage to devices

Ebook Databases

  • Successes: 24x7 remote access, professional publications, up-to-date and complete (no missing CDs), integration with the catalog (easier to find), e-reserve, full-text searchable (huge advantage for research)
  • Challenges: DRM eccentricities (each database is different, none are very good), multiple interfaces (patrons want content, so unfamiliar interfaces are a barrier and we lose people), cost (always have annual contracts - difference between owning content and buying access to content), finding specific titles (we can always find content, but not always exactly what they want)

Questions and Answers from Panel Discussion
Any childrens books on ebooks? Like Tumblebooks?
Belmont didn't put them on, because we want adults to be more careful with the devices. Nashua uses Tumblebooks and people like them. Cushing still actively collects print picture books.

Do teachers "silo" their class material and not use library eresources?
They do, because they always have, but we're working with them to show them how they can use ereserve and other tools for class. The focus needs to be on the students, and what works best for them.

Do people purchase or lease Espresso machine?
Harvard Book Store leased it, but other people buy them. However, there are also leasing companies.

How has the School Library Association viewed what is happening at Cushing?
They're both skeptical and interested, and want feedback on how it goes.

What kind of budget does Cushing have?
The space redesign and purchase of ereaders came out of the capital budget, not library budget. This year the econtent budget is coming from the library budget. It all happened before Tom was there, so not sure of the figure, but it's hundred of thousands of dollars.

If students have their own laptops/devices, why does the library offer ereaders?
Kindles only do reading, whereas other devices have lots of distractions built-in, and we want to focus on literacy.

How have faculty accept the change, technically?
To do this well, the administration must require adoption, but there was a lot of buy-in from faculty. There is also ongoing back-and-forth discussion, so we're all working together to meet the goal requirement.

By deauthorizing Kindles, does that turn off Amazon's big brother aspect or monitoring, and can use track highlighting and other activity for statistics?
We delete most patron activity, and never thought to track it.

Do you backup Kindle books?
Once you register a Kindle, all the books stay in your account and you can download them as many times as you want. You can backup locally on your server, but you need to sync it to your computer, and is just more difficult that relying on Amazon.

How do you provide students access to color content, like graphic novels?
We don't really - we never had much of a graphic novels collection and students haven't asked. But it's a trade off, because there are things the devices let you do that can't be done with print.

Espesso machine - what is the cost, and is there a backlog?
Cost of each book depends on source - publisher books (in copyright) are same price as book on the shelf (machine does this automatically, and store loses money on some books); for Google books we charge $8.00, which averages 400 pages, so we were losing money so now it depends on page count - $10-$20 average cost now; self-published set price with author, usually $9 cost and $15 retail, which is better for authors than they would get with a publisher. You can also order online and we will delivery locally via bike-delivery

Do Kindles need certain staff to make them work?
Only for downloading and fixing - check in and out goes through the circ desk so any staff can do it, including the 4-5 minute demo of how it works and checking to see if the titles are there

Are you concerned about the lack of physical ownership of Kindle content, and whether you'll be able to use it in the future?
Belmont: not really, because all the titles we have we also own in print, and are popular, so we think that when the interest in these titles die off, we won't need them any more
SNHU: We expect that to be the case, and it's all about cost - if we get the value out of the book via circs, we don't worry about the future
Cushing: We don't worry about it

What percentage of SNHU is eresources? And is it growing to accommodate Cushing students who expect digital resources?
Databases and downloads are right about the same, but nothing drastic is happening - print is staying steady.

What factors drive book sales for Harvard Book Store?
The general economy is very noticeable in the bookstore, but sales have increased each month this year. I haven't noticed any real affect with the advent of ebook readers - most customers say they like books, but use ebooks for travel (so in that respect it is a niche product). Sales of new hard covers (the most expensive) are the sales that are increasing. Our author events (over 200/year) really drive sales - not unusual to draw 600 people - authors can't sign ebooks

Libraries can offer more than one device, as a way to allow patrons to try the technology and use Overdrive titles.

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4 Responses to “NELA-ITS Workshop on Ebooks”

  1. eBook and eReader News Round-up « LibTech Soup Says:

    […] In eBook lending news there was this article by the Swiss-Army Librarian (a great session summarizer): http://www.swissarmylibrarian.net/2010/06/11/nela-its-workshop-on-ebooks […]

  2. Chris Rippel Says:

    When librarians circulate e-reading devices they are teaching patrons to use that brand of device. Therefore, librarians considering purchasing e-reading devices for circulation, should add the following question to the list of many questions that need answering, “If a patron buys their own version of the device, will they be able to put library resources in it? Or to put it another way, am I promoting continued use of the library?”

    Since patrons can load library-purchased Overdrive collections into Nooks and Sony readers the answer to the above question is yes. In fact, you could use library-purchased Nooks and Sony readers to teach patrons to use your Overdrive collection.

    At this time, libraries circulating Kindles are teaching patrons to use Kindles and buy ebooks from Amazon.com. This would be like Microsoft employees showing Microsoft customers how to use Linux computers. I can’t think of any good reason why librarians or Microsoft employees should do that.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Chris: That is a really interesting point – and definitely something for libraries to consider if they’re thinking about circ’ing ereaders.

    I agree with your idea logically, but at the same time I also have some gut-reaction misgivings. I’m all for promoting library resources, or resources that we can support, but not to the exclusion of everything else. That seems like too much of a business-oriented approach – pushing your products on the customer because that’s what you sell, not because it’s want the customer needs or wants.

    I think this is because we can get books on the Kindle that we can’t get through Overdrive. I think you’re right on saying that circulating Kindles is promoting Amazon sales. But at the same time, I have a hard time depriving a patron of something they wanted to read – offering Kindles helps balance the shortcomings of the Overdrive catalog.

  4. Swiss Army Librarian » Upcoming Workshop: Mobilize Your Patrons :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] of the New England Library Association hosts a workshop on some aspect of technology in libraries (past workshops rocked). I’m actually one of the presenters at this year’s workshop, along […]