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On February 14th and 21st I attended a two-part webinar on e-books in libraries. The webinar was sponsored by ALA TechSource, and was presented by Sue Polanka, author of the blog No Shelf Required and of two books by the same name.

Part 1 of the webinar was primarily about different types of e-books and different purchase models. Part 2 was about e-reader lending programs, and was mainly targeted toward public libraries. As you might guess, both parts covered ground that we’ve already pretty well covered at ZSR. But I was able to pick up a few tidbits of knowledge that I’ll share here.

Polanka cited a Library Journal survey that found that about 92% of academic libraries provide some sort of access to e-books. I think that was intended to show the growth and prevalence of e-books, but it made me wonder about the remaining 8% (schools to avoid, perhaps?).

She talked about the advantages and disadvantages of buying e-books (1) directly from publishers, (2) from aggregators [think EBL or ebrary], and (3) from wholesalers [e.g. YBP], as well as hosting your own e-books locally (requires enormous IT and infrastructure resources). Polanka also brought up self-publishing, in which individual authors use a proprietary software service to publish their own books, and wondered aloud: How do we discover, review, purchase, and access these e-books?

My favorite insight from part 1 was Polanka’s Rule #1 of buying e-books: “You are not just buying content, you’re buying content inside a container.” In other words, collection decisions must also take the user experience into account. The container might include DRM, specific software or interface, or a specific vendor relationship. The content you want to purchase will often determine the business model, vendor, or license.

Part 2 of the webinar was about lending e-readers, and seem to be mainly aimed at public libraries-types of devices, how to set up a lending program, etc. [*yawn* been there, done that]

One caution Polanka discussed was new to me. She cautioned against lending out e-readers that are not “fully accessible.” This means that a blind individual must be able to access the same content as the sighted, with reasonable ease of use. Polanka described a presentation she attended in which a blind audience member demonstrated with a Nook. The audience member was able to push the power button, but that was all; she didn’t even have a way to tell if the device had actually powered on. According to Polanka, Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, etc.) are fully accessible, as is the Kindle 3; the Kindle Fire, Kindle DX, Nook, and Sony e-readers (among others) are not. (I found it ironic, however, that throughout the presentation, Polanka continued to use the Kindle and Nook among her examples of lending programs.) She also gave three examples of libraries that have been sued (and lost) over this. Yipe!