In my last two columns I explored what I called the “mess of ebooks” and explained what I want from library ebooks. In this column I want to discuss a possible future that could be good for libraries and for publishers. Right now everything is in flux. Publishers are understandably wary of selling Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free ebooks to libraries, and the patron driven acquisition (PDA) model some libraries want might not be sustainable for publishers. Libraries are struggling to buy books at all. The library ebook market is in a state of flux. There’s opportunity in chaos, though, and the opportunity here is to create a future that’s good for everyone, from publishers to library users.
Simon & Schuster (S & S) last week announced that it will no longer require libraries to offer a “buy it now” option with the publisher’s ebook titles. In theory, these buy it now links enable patrons to avoid long holds lists while ensuring that a small percentage of their purchases went to their library, rather than to an online retailer such as Amazon. However, many libraries and municipalities have policies in place prohibiting this type of arrangement, and others simply find the library-as-retailer concept objectionable or even unethical.
Library security systems are described as “non-glamourous work-horses” on Bibliotheca’s website. It’s true that the core function—to deter theft and prevent materials that haven’t been properly checked out from accidentally walking out of the library—hasn’t changed much since 3M launched its Tattle Tape electromagnetic (EM) security system in the 1970s. However, many of the latest systems feature new functionality enhanced by RFID tags, along with sleek, unobtrusive design that gives public entryways a modern appearance.
The president surprised many people when he added his comments to the 4 million submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about whether and how the government should set rules that will shape the future of the Internet. What was surprising was that Obama came out with a short but quite pointed outline of what many of us feel would be exactly the right moves to take. Citizens of all political persuasions have strong feeling about the value of keeping the Internet open. How exactly to do that is what’s tricky. Because simplistic metaphors, such as asking whether Internet access is more like cable TV or like electricity, as a recent New York Times article put it, don’t really work, I thought I’d try and untangle what exactly is under debate.
In a move that will help the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) expand Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM)-based Maker space programming to multi-generational audiences, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) on October 23 awarded a $500,000 National Leadership Grant to FLP in support of the library’s Maker Jawn initiative.
Ninety-five percent of public libraries currently offer ebooks to patrons, up from 72 percent in 2010, and 89 percent in both 2012 and 2013. However, money remains the biggest impediment for libraries looking to add ebooks or expand collections, according to Library Journal’s fifth annual Ebook Usage in U.S. Public Libraries report, sponsored by Freading.
Print management and computer reservation solutions are designed to help libraries cut down on waste and ensure that time on public computers is distributed fairly among patrons, with minimal staff intervention. To keep pace with current trends, several vendors have added new features to their public computer management packages in recent months, enabling patrons to print from their own mobile devices, for example. All vendors negotiate pricing on a system- by-system basis, typically according to the selection of specific options or modules, the number of branches in which the solutions will be used, and the number of public access stations at each branch. Some solutions, such as Librarica’s CASSIE and Comprise’s SAM, are designed as fully integrated systems offering a variety of management features in one package. Other providers, such as EnvisionWare, iTeam, and GoPrint, offer the option to purchase reservation and print management modules separately. However, all vendors contacted for this spotlight describe their solutions as scalable, with options available for networks with as few as five public computers.