Arrant Scandal in the Digital Stacks!

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stackBy Alan Kilpatrick

Last week, I travelled to the annual Saskatchewan Library Association Conference.  I attended an engaging session on ebooks and the future of libraries called From Gatekeeper to Gardener: the E-publishing Revolution.   James LaRue, the former director of Douglas County Libraries (DCL), presented the session.  James is a frequent speaker on library and technology issues.  DCL is a public library system in Colorado that has had a great deal of success with ebooks.  DCL is often described as having gone from being the worst public library system in America to being the best public library system as a result of this ebook success.

During the session, James explained that “a revolution in publishing presents either a tremendous opportunity or tremendous threat to the viability of libraries.”  It is widely known that ebooks are becoming increasingly popular.  Demand for ebooks is astounding and the number of ebooks published has increased exponentially.  Unfortunately, the popularity of ebooks forces an existential challenge on libraries.  Librarians have blogged about this ebook crisis frequently in recent years:

According to James, the fundamental challenges libraries face with ebooks are:

  • Loss of ownership and access
  • High cost
  • Sacrificing the user experience

Libraries have few options when it comes to purchasing ebooks.  Large publishers have little incentive to sell ebooks to libraries at favourable terms.  Publisher ebook licenses often dictate a library does not own its ebook collection.  Rather, these licences dictate that libraries lease a sort of temporary access.  When a library decides to unsubscribe, the ebook collection disappears from the collection.  Cost is a major challenge as ebooks are far more expensive for libraries than they are for individual consumers.  The conference session also suggested that libraries are sacrificing a smooth user experience.  Ebooks are usually inaccessible from a library’s catalogue.  Library patrons are required to leave the library website in order to access ebooks.  This situation, James asserted, is a scandal.  Libraries are giving up access, ownership, and the user experience.

Librarians need to resolve these challenges.  Otherwise, the continued relevance of libraries is at grave risk.

DCL has worked to resolve these challenges through an ebook experiment.  The library developed new software with the Adobe Content Server to create a single library catalogue that can access print and ebook resources.  Next, the library began purchasing self-published ebooks and ebooks from smaller publishers that were keen to collaborate with the public library.  Finally, DCL worked with a lawyer to create an alternative agreement to traditional ebook licenses.  This alternative understanding allows DCL to own the ebooks it purchases.  To date, over 900 publishers have agreed to sell ebooks to DCL based on this alternative agreement.

Canadian law libraries face unique challenges acquiring legal ebooks.  Legal publishers in Canada have been to slow to respond and lagged far behind fiction publishers in creating ebooks.  However, the DCL ebook experiment demonstrates that success is possible.

The Law Society of Saskatchewan Library has been working persistently to navigate the challenges associated with legal ebooks.  Our mission is to provide Saskatchewan lawyers with the high quality and authoritative legal ebooks they need to practice law.  Recently, we conducted a one month trial with Emond Montgomery’s Working with the Law Series.  Based on the positive feedback received, the library purchased the entire series.  They are available in the Members’ Section.  Some of the Emond Montgomery titles include:

  • Criminal Law for Legal Professionals
  • Family Law: Practice and Procedure
  • Wills and Estates
  • Civil Litigation
  • Fundamentals of Contract Law

The Law Society of Saskatchewan Library also subscribes to the Irwin Law e-library.  This contains over 100 legal ebooks and the Essentials of Canadian Law Series.  It is available in the Members’ Section as well.

If you have any questions about ebooks, feel free to contact the library at reference@lawsociety.sk.ca or (306) 569-8020.  Please leave a comment letting us know what you think about ebooks.

 

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