I started writing this post yesterday describing my experience helping to launch an Overdrive eBook library, and then I read a great post at Library Renewal on this very topic! I’ve updated it to include some references to that.
Where we’re at
I work at a small public library in North Carolina. As of November 1, 2011, we are part of the 82% of public libraries now offering eBooks. We’re part of a consortium of 11 public libraries in North Carolina with our own Overdrive digital library. Public libraries in North Carolina are banding together to buy eBooks – another big consortium is the North Carolina Digital Library, with 20 member libraries and library systems.
I collaborated with our Reference librarian to create instructional sessions on eBooks, based on a class I co-taught at Chapel Hill Public Library. Demand for instruction on our eBook library was immediately huge. We filled up 5 classes of 15 people in a couple of weeks, and had to put more people on a waiting list.
Teaching this stuff is hard, or, Yes our presentation is 76 slides long
“When patrons’ technological problems exceed our mission, another major problem with ebooks in libraries is patent. When an ebook provider requires library staff to provide front-line tech support for their products, and refuses to make their own customer service agents available directly to patrons, they have in effect outsourced their tech support services to libraries at no cost to them.” – Matt Weaver, Library Renewal
Public libraries are the front line for eReader education. Patrons come to us because there’s no one else to talk to about how to use their device (with the exception of Barnes & Noble, who offer in-person support for the Nook at all their stores). I’ve become fluent in the inner workings of the iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader, and Nook because I want to offer support to patrons with these devices, and the companies aren’t doing it.
The hardest thing about teaching people how to use our digital library and eBooks is the lack of standard directions for downloading eBooks between devices. Downloading eBooks for the Kindle requires no software and the eBooks sync automatically with the Kindle. Nook eBooks need to be downloaded, opened in Adobe Digital Editions, and then manually transferred to the Nook. There’s an iPad app for downloading eBooks, but you can’t browse the digital library within the app. And so on and so forth. The approach the Reference Librarian and I have taken is to teach each device separately, in one long class. We’re probably going to switch to teaching separate classes for each device to make the classes shorter.
Where we’re going
Just about a month after our launch, nearly 40% of our eBooks are checked out. I think our circulation percentages will go up: North Carolina Digital Library has 75% of their eBooks checked out right now. While I think this rapidly increasing usage is due in large part to the classes we’ve taught, it would be easy to enter into an attitude of “everything with ebooks in libraries must be fine because your usage keeps increasing.” (Matt Weaver, again) I’m certain that we could check out 75% of the books in our digital library eventually while offering no instruction. But if we leave eBook downloads to the few who are already tech-savvy and can figure this stuff out themselves, we’re disenfranchising a large part of our service population who already own eReaders but need help getting on the library eBook bandwagon. Of course, there are also many people who can’t afford eReaders and are already disenfranchised, a serious concern for a (potential) future in which most collection development happens in the eBook environment that Seanan McGuire has dealt with in this post on her blog. That’s a whole other can of worms. In conclusion, I think eBook user education is essential for public libraries to maintain a commitment to the broadest possible accessibility to their collections.