Once upon a time, you had to physically go to the library to check out a book. The library was able to purchase one copy of the book at the going rate, and lend it out based on established procedures.
Flickr Creative Commons, fishbraintexas.
With the ability to lend and share as many copies as desired at one time, digital books have challenged a lot of the old practices. One major obstacle involves money, as many publishers have not yet found a sustainable and affordable model for selling ebooks to libraries. Another issue involves intellectual property rights, as digital media is easily copied and shared widely, where physical documents were much more limited.
While ebooks are pushing libraries, publishers, and legislators into new directions, some of them are pushing back. One way is through DRM, or Digital Rights Management. DRM technologies basically control how a certain media or piece of hardware can be used, in an attempt to prevent piracy and misuse. Companies like Apple and Amazon are using DRM to control how many times an ebook can be downloaded, and legislators are reinforcing the flaws in DRM by creating anti-circumvention laws that make it illegal for users to create workarounds.
Though there are many challenges for libraries in terms of adopting ebooks, they also offer a solution to the issues of access and preservation. In my own experience as a digital librarian in Kazakhstan, I created ebooks in order to provide better access to important and rare books in the Kazakh language. Similar projects are being carried out at the British Library as well as through large-scale efforts like the Hathitrust Digital Library.
So you’ve probably already read ebooks yourself, and know how they work. So for this Thing, I’ve tried to delve deeper into interesting projects and provide links to organizations working on ebook-related issues. That said, ebooks are hot, and things are always changing. If you know of a great project or organization that I’ve left out, link it in the comments. Otherwise, let’s…
Check out some of the great projects happening around the web to make ebooks freely accessible to the public. One of the most exciting projects is Unglue.it, which works to provide a substantial one-time compensation for the author through crowdfunding so that the work can then become freely available through a Creative Commons license. This offers a creative solution to the copyright problem faced by many digital libraries. Also visit the recently launched DP.LA, a partnership effort that’s been getting a lot of press recently.
Get educated on alternative publishing methods for ebooks, and support sustainable projects. Help unlock an ebook at Unglue.it! And while you’re there, download Lauren Pressley’s already-unglued ebook, So You Want to be a Librarian.
Learn more about open access, find open access ebooks, and discover how your library collection can be enhanced with freely accessible materials. University publishers are especially fruitful for OA book collections – a couple of personal favorites are Open Humanities Press and Digitalculturebooks, both imprints of the University of Michigan Press.
Learn more about DRM and get involved. Play around with formats using programs like Calibre, run OCR to add searchability to your document using Adobe Pro or a freely available software like Tesseract, and download to various devices. Check out different ebook apps, like the sleek Readmill or Stanza for iPad and iPhone, or Aldiko for Android.
Get active in your library. Share ereader and ebook app reviews with your patrons, be knowledgeable about formats and devices (check out this helpful infographic to simply the process), give ebooks physical presence in your collection by creating dummy bookmarks. Participate in projects like Distributed Proofreaders, which is the main source of public domain books available through Project Gutenberg.
Finally, stay up to date on digital library news.
Whew, so that brings us to…
Economics – How can we work with publishers in order to make ebooks more effective in libraries?
Marketing – How can we make ebooks easily accessible? How can we standardize ebook access through different publishers and websites?
Bridging the Digital Divide – Will ebooks ever replace physical books for ALL patrons? How do we work with different groups of patrons to meet their needs?
Copyright – How can we work with legislators to fix copyright in order to support innovation and creation in digital content?