Our library patrons are just like everyone else: they want eBooks. They cast their vote for eBooks every time they check out EPUB, PDF and Kindle titles from your digital collection—and they’ve done so millions of times this year across the OverDrive network. What’s more, as we’ve seen in Library Journal’s “Patron Profiles” report and other studies, library book borrowers are also book purchasers—in print and in digital form, just as they always have been.
Library eBook lending is a new frontier, and the landscape is far from settled. The service is not perfect. There are technical challenges, and not all publishers are on board with the plan (yet). But that doesn’t mean we should give up on library eBooks altogether, as some have suggested. Our patrons love eBooks. That much is clear.
So how can we, as librarians, ensure that eBook lending continues to grow into a robust service that keeps up with the very best that retail has to offer? We can do that not by passively accepting what is available, and not by giving up on eBooks entirely, but by thinking about the service, imagining new features that could make it better, and sharing this feedback with vendors like OverDrive.
Librarians have always played a key role in the development of OverDrive’s eBook platform. Back in 2003, OverDrive collaborated with CLEVNET, a library consortium led by Cleveland Public Library, to develop the first OverDrive library eBook service. Believe it or not, the library approached OverDrive asking for a way to provide eBooks, not the other way around! The service launched with 1,000 titles in the Adobe and Palm formats. In those days, selections were made from spreadsheet lists of titles with no descriptions—no Content Reserve, no Holds Manager, no Reports feature.
I was there for that launch. This was 4 ½ years before Amazon released the Kindle. The OverDrive service was revolutionary because, before this, eBook services required the reader to be connected to the Internet while they read the books, and those online services provided only scholarly titles.
Looking back at how far we’ve come, I can’t help but ask: Where would libraries be now if we had not embraced eBooks? And what would our future look like without eBooks?
As it is, the future looks bright for libraries. With many bookstores closing, libraries are perfectly positioned to become the primary showrooms for publishers, the first place readers go to discover books. We can meet this challenge by providing our patrons with the eBooks they want and love and use. This is a great time to be a librarian. Cast a vote for eBooks.
Cindy Orr is a Library Consultant at OverDrive.