E-Books and Readers' Advisory

By Trott, Barry | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

E-Books and Readers' Advisory


Trott, Barry, Reference & User Services Quarterly


E-books are on the minds of publishers, authors, and readers these days. And they should be on the minds of librarians as well. As with any new format for materials, there are challenges and issues that libraries face in adding e-books to their collections. Some libraries are already invested in the process, licensing e-book collections from vendors and even circulating preloaded e-book readers to users. Other institutions are waiting to see how the market shakes out and whether a platform neutral e-book format will make it possible for libraries to support any e-book user, regardless of whether they use a Kindle, a Nook, an iPad, a Sony Reader, or one of the other myriad readers out there. Beyond the collection and technological issues, e-book readers also offer readers' advisors some new challenges in working with users. Any time a new format is introduced in libraries, we need to look at how that format affects the reader's approach to the material. In the following piece, Katie Dunneback gives an overview of e-books and readers' advisory that is a useful opening of the discussion of how we incorporate e-books into our practice as readers advisors. Dunneback is Consultant with East Central Library Services in Bettendorf, Iowa, where she is one of the lead providers of readers' advisory continuing education. She has presented programs on e-books and RA/library issues for Library Journal's E-book Summit, "eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point"; the 2011 Iowa Small Library Online Conference; and the 2011 Tools of Change Conference. Dunneback is coauthor of the Everything Romance chapter in Integrated Advisory Service: Breaking Through the Book Boundary to Better Serve Library Users. She is a member of the Iowa Center for the Book Advisory Board and was a member of the inaugural The Reading List Council in 2007.--Editor

From the first e-text keyed in to a computer file using plain vanilla ASCII by Michael Hart at the University of Illinois in 1971 (it was the Declaration of Independence), the usage and development of e-books have grown by leaps and bounds. (1) As the speed of progress with regard to e-book technology is also ever increasing, this article will focus on an overview of considerations for technology, collection development and circulation issues, and providing advisory services for e-books in libraries. E-books have been freed from the Pandora's box in the library world. We cannot stuff them back in and must figure out how to deal with the issues surrounding them.

TECHNICAL ISSUES

The first point of business to understand is that e-books do not enjoy the same sort of protections under copyright law as physical books do. The First Sale Doctrine is the exception to copyright law that allows for the transfer and disposal of a lawfully acquired and tangible copy of a work. (2) This is the section of copyright law that allows for libraries to operate in a lawful manner. In Complete Copyright, Carrie Russell notes that with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, one of the unresolved issues was the "creation of a 'digital first sale doctrine.'" Digital copies appear to still be subject to the First Sale Doctrine as long as they are tied to a tangible medium such as a CD or DVD. (3)

With intangible digital copies, you have lost the right to dispose of it as you wish (other than outright deleting it) and are in effect licensing access to a file. To control the access according to the license, publishers assign what is known as digital rights management (DRM) to files. DMCA essentially bars libraries from purchasing electronic copies of books themselves, setting up a file server, and distributing the files to their patrons as they see fit without the content creator's explicit consent on each transaction. It could be done if your library wanted to set itself up as a direct distributor of a publisher's titles rather than going through a vendor, but as you are still only licensing access, a library would have to invest significant money and manpower in developing a robust system that would appease content providers who insist on the presence of DRM. …

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