Options for libraries

Word version of this document.

Option 0: Ignore eBooks

Easiest response

Print books by bestselling authors, which most patrons want anyway will remain available in the foreseeable future.

Your library could focus on non-book related services such as programming.

Books are already being published only as eBooks. This trend is likely to increase in the future. Eventually, you and your patrons will start noticing this. This will ultimately start affecting patrons and your opinion of your library's worth.
Option 1: Buy an eReader; load it with eBooks of print bestsellers; circulate it

Easy response

Option already implemented in a number of libraries.

It is monetarily wasteful to spend $160, i.e., $150 for eReader plus $10 for eBook, to circulate eBook versions of print titles they could be circulated for $16.

Putting many bestsellers in one device is even more wasteful because patrons wanting one bestseller walk out with a device containing many bestsellers.

Since libraries cannot afford to purchase devices for many patrons, this option is not affordable in the long run.

Circulating Kindles teaches patrons to buy Kindles and Kindle eBooks from Amazon rather than using library resources.
Option 2: Use eBooks to fill interlibrary loan requests and holds on new bestsellers.
  1. Buy some eReaders.
  2. When taking holds for new bestsellers, ask patrons if they would read an eBook version.
  3. When holds build up for a new print book and your library should buy an additional print book, buy eBook versions instead. Search Inkmesh at http://inkmesh.com/ for new eBooks.
  4. eBook versions of classics and new books would provide immediate delivery rather than next day delivery of interlibrary loan.

Almost all new books you want are available in eBook versions. A look at 39 new releases on one day showed 9 titles (23%) were not available as eBooks.

eBooks are, on average, $2.21 cheaper than hardbacks at the library vendor discount.

Immediate filling of holds and ILL requests for new books.

Extra copies do not fill up library shelves to be weeded later when demand falls.

Taking holds requires collecting information about whether people will read an eBook.
Option 3: Let patrons request or buy what they want to read

Sparta (New Jersey) Public Library loans Kindles and lets patrons buy on eBook on the library's credit card. Patrons are told that they will pay for any extra eBooks they purchase. The system is working.

Crestview High School in Georgia asks students to browse the Kindle online store and write down on a form up to 10 titles they want to read. Up to 10 of the requested titles are loaded into a Kindle. The Kindle is circulated. Students claim reading what they want is important. Go to http://www.theunquietlibrary.libguides.com/kindles and scroll down to Blog entries #8, #9, #12, #13.

Patrons get what they want and very personalized service.


Sparta Library's method requires the library board and library staff to trust patrons.

Crestview's method requires the extra step of collecting desired titles.

Though the library may own hundreds, thousands of eBooks, the library can only serve as many patrons, at one time, as the number of Kindles the library owns. It is a little more complicated since a single eBook can only be access in six different Kindles.
Option 4: Buy an eReader; load it with eBooks only available as eBooks; circulate it

Introducing new authors is a traditional and sensible role for libraries.

Providing media unavailable in other formats is a traditional and sensible role for libraries.

This makes financial sense for libraries because many eBooks published by independent eBook publishers and self-published are cheaper than the eBook versions of print books sold by Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Check out the Darien Library's Early Literacy iPad at http://tinyurl.com/6wovq3x

Library staff must learn where independent eBooks are located. In the left menu called "For patrons," "Cheap eBooks" and "Free eBooks" provides sources of eBook only eBooks.

Library staff must download these eBooks into devices using a method that is a bit slower than using the device itself to buy and Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s eBooks.
Option 5: Help patrons select the eReaders

To me, this option includes teaching patrons about:
  • Dedicated eReading devices plus
  • Reading on other devices such as PCs, laptops and smartphones plus
  • Sources of free public domain eBooks, independent eBooks provided by companies other than Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Sony.

Fulfilling a role patrons expect from us.

Influence patrons’ decision in choosing a device that could allow libraries to continue their traditional role as providers of reading materials. Thereby, libraries remain valuable even for those using eReaders.

Requires training of library staff for supporting this role.

Requires obtaining educational resources for supporting this role. (The Message to patrons on the Home page and the links in the "For patrons" menu provide advice and information for helping patrons select eReaders.
Option 6: Patrons buy a device; library provides content for patrons’ devices

Most affordable response for libraries because patrons purchase devices. Libraries spent their budget on relatively cheap eBooks.

Since this option skirts the problem on having all library eBooks in a single device, this option allows the most efficient distribution of eBooks to patrons.

Since this model is much like the traditional library checkout model, the model is easy to explain to patrons.

Availability of an affordable source of library eBooks that can be loaded into patrons’ devices. At this time, Overdrive is about the only source that provides public libraries with content for patrons’ devices.

Overdrive has a number of problems. Read "Where do libraries fit?" the in the "For librarians" menu.


  1. Thank you for this great summary, Chris!

  2. A good summary to share with trustees and library boards when deciding how to budget.

  3. Read an article saying Overdrive raises the cost of e-books to libraries above the print equivalent by as much as $8. There has to be another way!

  4. It seems to me the library community is ignoring the elephant in the room: Where does this path lead? eBooks are inherently in the control of publishers. There is a sort of natural law that makes it easy as well as traditional to share physical books and media, but with eBooks the whole concept of libraries is ultimately less viable. We need to be looking at these new systems we are building with a "seven generations" eye and think about a viable path for libraries starting now -- or we'll wind up in a pay-per-use world, and one in which information can be continually tampered with and revised at that.