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Friday, 18th June 2010

Librarian in Black on "Frustrating" and eBook/Audiobook Downloads

The Librarian in Black (aka Sarah Houghton-Jan) has an excellent (as always) essay about eBooks and eBook readers. We think the title says it all, "I Am a Frustrated eBook (Non) User."

She writes:

I strongly feel that eBooks & AudioBooks are only used on the margins of our library communities. Not because people don’t have the technology–they do. And not because they don’t want eBooks–they do. But because using library eBooks is such a horrible pain, sometimes impossible, due to the restrictions that DRM places on us (which affects the subsequent issues of licensing & copyright).

We think this is an excellent point but ResourceShelf would add that another reason that people don't use library eBooks is because they don't know that these services exist in the first place, are available 24x7, and are available at no charge. In the past week I mentioned this service to a friend and to a family member this week (both frequent library users) who had no idea that these services are available.

On the other hand, it's very scary if a potential library eBook user (someone who is motivated enough to try downloading) gets ready to download and ends with nothing but frustration and wasted time. Not only is that a bad experience but it also reinforces the myth that all libraries and library resources are difficult to use. It will now be an even larger challenge to get the person to try again.

After an excellent explanation of what happened when she (Librarian in Black) tried to download a book, Sarah is told the following from a customer service person at OverDrive. Not very encouraging words from a representative of a major provider of eBooks and other materials to libraries.

I asked Overdrive for help, and was told “Yeah, sometimes that happens and we don’t know why. It seems to happen a lot with Android.”

So I am left having wasted about an hour and a half trying to get a book I didn’t even like or want onto my phone, and have nothing to show for it. And you know what? I have the same experience with almost every eBook platform we have. It’s all bad.

Wow, an amazing response. Even if all was perfect in eBookland that's the type of customer service WE DON'T want to be giving our users who could easily think that the eBook customer service was coming from a representative of their local library.

Librarian in Black suggests:

It’s high time that a group of librarians banded together, really hard and really fast, and demanded from the publishers that they recognize our right to treat an eBook title like a print book title. We should be able to loan it out to as many users, one after another, as we want.

More (Including a few Suggestions) After a Click

In our view, the situation will only get better if library users and librarians that use eBook services DEMAND:

1) To vendors and publishers via the library or the library consortium level that things must change. In other words, make the demands from the organization that pays the bills.

2) Directly to the vendor of the service. Let them use their influence to motivate publishers to make changes. Frustrated librarians and library users are not going to be good news to vendors.

3) Directly to the publishers and their trade associations. Many of the larger publishers have departments that work with the library and K-12 market. Make sure that trade organizations like the AAP know your feelings. The DRM and other issues are not showing their industry in a very favorable light.

4) A unified effort (easier said than done) by as many library organizations as possible to use their influence on vendors and publishers.

Librarian in Black suggests that this needs to get done quickly. So, why not organize a teleconference (doesn't really cost anything but time) where members of the different communities can introduce themselves and share explanations and opinions. Then, perhaps plan for an in person meeting.

Let's try to get some changes made or at the least, on the table for discussion. While it's crucial for all involved to be on the same page, the companies that act as intermediaries (between publishers and libraries) and also provide the eBook reading software must take the lead in making publishers and customers (libraries) agreeable with how library eBooks work.

Kudos to Sarah (aka Librarian in Black) for her excellent post.

UPDATE (1): Each month we post the most popular downloads from the previous month on ResourceShelf. We wonder how many of those downloads went smoothly or required some intervention by reading online support materials, calling a local library, or phoning Overdrive support? We will contact OverDrive on Monday and see what we can learn.

UPDATE (2): As we posted yesterday, The Open Library and and Amazon.com have made it very easy (even grandma can do it) to add full text public domain materials from Open Library to an Amazon Kindle. Yes, of course, this is public domain content and does not have DRM associated with it. Our point is simply to show what good things can happen when two organizations (in this case one with content, Open Library and one with software/hardware, Amazon.com) work together.

This ease of use is something that needs to be the goal of all of those who make online content available for download from a library.

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