March 17, 2018

Best Digital Practices: Navigating Platforms, Digital Displays, and the Ghost of VHS | LJ Day 2012of Dialog 2012

Nearly 230 librarians, authors, and publishers gathered for the 15th annual LJ Day of Dialog at McGraw-Hill on June 4. Designed to foster better communication and relationship building, the event also emphasizes the strength of the library market, not only for book purchases but as an engine for book sales and author discovery. This year’s Day of Dialog featured five presentations: Two author panels, a conversation with New York Times columnist Gail Collins, a conversation on digital collection development and best practices, and a perennial favorite, Editor’s Picks. See more from Day of Dialog.

“Unless you are willfully ignorant or dead,” Library Journal Book Review Editor Heather McCormack began, you are aware of the challenges librarians face as new digital collections are built and maintained. The third panel of the day, “Best Digital Practices” offered concrete advice from librarians who’ve spent time in the ebook trenches. Moderated by McCormack, the panel also included Sarah Beasley (coordinator, e-Resources, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh), LJ 2010 Mover and Shaker Stephanie Chase (systemwide & virtual information services administrator, Multnomah Cty. Lib; @acornsandnuts), Laura Lent (chief, collections & technical services, San Francisco P.L.), Alene E. Moroni (manager, selection & order, King Cty. Lib. Sys.; @surlyspice), and LJ 2012 Mover and Shaker Jordana Vincent (collection development, Douglas Cty. Libs.; @livredame).

“This is not a carping session” about ebook availability, McCormack qualified in her opening remarks. Instead, the panel was a space for constructive, collaborative discussion about how libraries can build the best possible electronic collections when librarians face an abundance of content platforms, a dearth of ebook reviews, and patrons who require assistance with new technology.


The panel agreed that the recent proliferation of new platforms has changed the game. Fees are going down, and libraries can now rely on the new competition to better negotiate prices. Shopping around and talking to several vendors is essential. There is no perfect platform that will deliver everything, so librarians must be careful to weigh what they need most. Different kinds of content require different delivery systems.

Moroni explained that her library uses both Overdrive and Axis 360, the former more for popular fiction and the latter for more academic resources. Particularly today, she urged, there is no reason to stick to a single platform when a library’s needs may be best met by more than one.

It’s important to explore what various interfaces offer at all stages of use, i.e., collection development and acquisitions, the patron experience when checking out a title or making a request, or weed older titles.


The panel urged the audience to look to smaller presses for new ebook acquisitions, especially when bestsellers are unavailable. Another frequent difficulty is the lack of coverage of ebook originals by traditional review sources. For librarians looking to diversify their digital collection, the best place to look may be nontraditional review outlets. Vincent said that Douglas County often looked to Goodreads for reviews when she couldn’t find coverage from the usual channels.


The panel also discussed what they called the “cataloging bottleneck.” Even though the digital content libraries purchase becomes available immediately, the time it takes to enter every new title or resource into the catalog means these new acquisitions often sit in limbo. Moroni stressed the importance of getting everything into the catalog as soon as possible, keeping those records clean, and avoiding broken links. Chase added that it’s essential to allocate staff time to this stage of the process.

Among biggest challenges cited by the panel was discoverability. Collection development librarians spend an enormous amount of time and money building these ebook collections, and they want patrons to find these titles and use them. They’ve had extraordinary success with building digital power walls, which mirror the cover-facing arrangement of physical displays. In one case, 80 percent of the ebooks a library circulated came from the digital power wall. The panel agreed that the ability to browse was essential for ebook discoverability.


Meanwhile, the idea that digital collections offered unlimited space is a fallacy, and it’s as important for collection development librarians to prune away unused or irrelevant ebooks as it is print books. Even if it occupies no physical space, libraries don’t want reference or nonfiction materials that haven’t been relevant since 2002. The point, ultimately, is to make the useful, relevant titles more visible.

However, digital weeding is labor intensive. In particular, the panel mentioned the difficulty of weeding in Overdrive. The only way to remove titles from an Overdrive-hosted collection was to contact your Overdrive representative and submit a request that the titles be suppressed from display.


Most of the digital materials the panelists’ libraries owned are copies of titles they already have in print, but some libraries are beginning to license electronic-only goods. There is a general movement away from digital collections being seen as reflections of print collections, to being seen as supplements to them.

In terms of financial allocation, the librarians said they are not cannibalizing their print budgets for ebooks. While demand for new print titles isn’t growing as quickly as demand for ebooks, it is still substantial and still increasing.


The panelists reflected on the long learning curve for new technology. Librarians still spend a lot of time teaching patrons how to use new technology. They agreed that it’s more important to teach patrons how to use more basic electronic resources like email and databases than it to use ereaders. One used teenagers in her library to help senior patrons with technology questions about ereaders, email, and more—an idea that has been enormously successful.

Over time, librarians will spend less time on instruction and more on questions about digital reference and readers’ advisory. Still, it’ll be a long process. Moroni said, “In terms of the timeline, I don’t know if you guys remember DVDs.” The shift from VHS to DVD took 10 years because that’s how long it took for patron demand for VHS to diminish. The transition was so protracted because libraries serve communities, and ultimately the public adoption of new technology is much slower than the aisles of a Best Buy might suggest. She added, “Not everyone owns an ereader. Not everyone owns a smartphone.”