Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Follow the Ebook Road: Ebooks in Australian Public Libraries

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Follow the Ebook Road: Ebooks in Australian Public Libraries

Article excerpt

Predictions and possibilities about how ebooks and ebook readers will be integrated into public libraries over the next few years are discussed. Edited version of a presentation for a workshop at the Alia public libraries conference 12-15 November 2001

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Electronic books or ebooks are just that, electronic versions of print books. However the book may have not been available as a print book and may have only been published as an ebook. The electronic version may also not be identical to the print version, as it can have many bonus electronic features that are not possible with a print book. To confuse the definition, however, electronic book is also the term commonly given to the hand held reading devices used to read ebooks on. Ebooks can also be read online on pcs, laptops and downloaded on to Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

Electronic books have been available in libraries for several years. They have been discussed vigorously by library staff keen to adopt new technology that improves information access for library users. At this stage the ebook technology is still evolving and can be cumbersome. Many companies are involved in ebook development. Each has a proprietary system, thus there is a lack of standardisation. Ebooks are currently expensive, and the content is primarily American.

Despite these negatives it is still worth pursuing ebooks, as the technology does offer some unique features. These include

* information delivery 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to anywhere in the world with internet access

* the ability to search a whole book for keywords in seconds

* the ability to change text size to suit the reader's needs

* hyper links to relevant webpages

* the ability to continually update the content within the ebook as required

This group of papers discusses the US library experience of ebooks and the projects begun by some Australian libraries.

FOLLOWING THE FREEWAY: THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

Pam Saunders Resources Librarian Yarra Plenty Regional Library Vic psaunders@yprl.vic.gov.au

In 2000 I was fortunate to receive the Barrett Reid Scholarship from the State Library of Victoria to research ebooks and their impact on Victorian libraries. I am currently responsible for children's and youth resources, and project manager ebooks, at Yarra Plenty Regional Library. The Barrett Reid Scholarship enabled me to travel to the US in May 2001 to investigate companies involved in ebook production, particularly netLibrary. I also visited public and academic libraries that were using various forms of ebooks.

The American libraries had introduced ebooks primarily through either the netLibrary model and/or by lending hand held reading devices such as Rocket or Softbooks. Generally, they received special grants or funding to enable these projects to commence.

NetLibrary is an aggregator [now owned by OCLC after financial difficulty ed] providing pc based ebooks for public, academic and special libraries. It offers nonfiction titles from a wide range of publishers and a small collection of publicly accessible titles that are out of copyright. NetLibrary is not aimed at trade publisher's titles. At this stage, it is the only company to offer libraries a relatively simple, complete package of ebooks that can be easily integrated into their collections.

Many US libraries join a consortium as their first step into ebooks using netLibrary. The content is primarily American and initially seems expensive, especially when converted to Australian dollars. A title must be purchased at full print cost plus an access fee of 9 per cent of the cost per year, or 50 per cent of the cost for perpetual access. Libraries agree to purchase a minimum collection number. There are issues of distribution fights, with some titles unavailable for purchase in Australia, although this is rapidly changing, and some rifles are unavailable for consortium purchase. …

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