Monday, March 28, 2016

What Do Libraries Have to Offer?: Ebooks, Audiobooks, and How to Get Your Books into Libraries.

These days, there is much more to the library than traditional paper books. In addition to the print and  audio books you’re used to seeing on our shelves, public libraries also offer downloadable versions through a variety of platforms, streaming services, and even circulating electronic devices, most of which are available to patrons around the clock—even when we librarians are not.  While offerings differ in the digital sphere (even within a single library system like we have in the Birmingham area) there are a few big names that you’ll see consistently on library websites around the country:  Overdrive, Axis 360, 3M Cloud Library, One Click Digital, Audiobook Cloud, and Hoopla.

  • Overdrive is probably the most widely used service for digital books in libraries. It offers downloadable ebooks and audiobooks, apps for desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones, and it is compatible with most major devices, including Kindle. The set-up is analogous to the traditional print book-buying system: libraries buy titles that patrons can check out, one at a time. Just like the paper copy, if someone has the digital copy checked out, you’ll have to wait until it is returned before you get access. Depending on the publisher, libraries may have to re-purchase content once it has circulated a certain number of times or after a set period of time has lapsed (eg: 24 check-outs or 2 years).

  • Axis 360 is similar to Overdive, but is a service provided by Baker & Taylor, a traditional library book vendor.  They also offer ebooks and downloadable audiobooks, and library patrons download the Blio Reader app onto their own devices in order to read or listen to them. Like Overdrive, librarians select and purchase the content that is available to patrons, based on the limitations set by publishers.

  • 3M Cloud Library is another similar service; however, it only offers ebooks. Like the others, librarians select and purchase content while patrons browse an online catalog using the website or a mobile app and download content onto their own devices.  

  • OneClick Digital and AudioBook Cloud are subscription services that offer a set catalog of downloadable audiobooks to patrons (no ebooks).  OneClick Digital is operated by Recorded Books and predominately offers their own content (though they now claim to offer more), while Audiobook Cloud offers content from multiple publishers/production companies. Libraries subscribe to the service as a whole,  and the same set of content is provided to patrons. The library is charged for the service based on their population size.  Like the other services discussed, both offer apps that allow patrons to checkout and download materials that expire after a set period of time; however, both allow for multiple people to checkout the same titles at the same time—this means no more pesky waiting lists!

  • Hoopla, operated by Midwest Tape, is a streaming service that also allows simultaneous access to patrons. Their entire catalog of movies, music, audiobooks, ebooks and graphic novels is available to subscribing libraries.  Instead of selecting content, libraries pay by use, each time a patron checks out a title. Libraries can choose which formats that their subscription will offer and set limits on the amount of content a patron can access per month, based on their budget and their population size. 

Well fantastic, you may be thinking. How do I get in on that?
Step one is: make your book available on one of these platforms.  I know that Smashwords and Ingram CoreSource distribute to Overdrive and probably some of the others, but unfortunately, as a librarian, I don’t have more advice to offer on how to make this happen.  (Perhaps one of you can shed more light on that process in the comments section?) Hopefully, knowing a little more about each service and how they operate will give you a better idea about which ones are the most worthwhile to pursue.

Step two is for those services where titles are purchased individually: You’ll have to request that your library buy your book. Because digital content is much more expensive to libraries than it is to the public, a lot of libraries are limited in terms of what they can buy. At the mercy of government mandated budgets, this can differ widely by location and population. Unlike print books, donating a digital copy can be messy, if not downright impossible thanks to the many different proprietary formats and applications.

Genuine patron requests are another great way to get a librarian’s attention; however, spamming the library’s request form is not. We can tell the difference; I promise [winks].  Many libraries also have some kind of official author submission form on their website. These allow you, the author, to tell us about your book and give us the information we need to know to make a decision.

The best information you can give us to get your book into the library is also probably one of the most difficult to accomplish, especially for self and indie published authors: the professional review.  Romantic Times now has a supplement to their monthly issues that offers reviews on indie books as does Publishers Weekly Select and sometimes Library Journal Xpress (e-only); however, what they review and print is a tiny sliver of what is out there.  Most collection development policies require professional reviews from journals like that, though some *might* give weight to significant online buzz on Goodreads or Amazon, or mention on big-name blogs.  Appearing on bestseller lists like NYT or USA Today (no matter what the ranking) is also noteworthy to librarians as we evaluate titles for purchase.  When you make a request to your library, be sure to include information like this up front--if we have to search for a reason to justify adding a book to a collection, we are less likely to do it.
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Believe me, were it possible, we librarians would delight in buying every book presented to us. Sadly, in an era of diminishing budgets and an explosion of available content and formats to choose from, we're forced to make some tough choices. Take heart, though: In my library, at least, the most popular books in our digital collection are--you guessed it--romance.

I hope that rather than boring you to tears, some of this will help you on your quest to see your books on a library shelf--be it a physical or a digital one.


Cara Dawn said...

I haven't checked out a digital library book yet, but this has inspired me! Thanks, Stephanie!

Alicia Coleman said...

Thanks so much for posting Stephanie! I have Overdrive on my phone and tablet. It's all set up but I haven't 'borrowed' anything digital yet.

Susan said...

This is such a great post! Thanks so much!

Ali Hubbard said...

Oh my goodness! Such a great post with wonderful information. Thank you so much.

Meda White said...

Great info, Stephanie. I have Overdrive and use it regularly to borrow audio and eBook titles. It's so easy and convenient. Remembering my library card number is the hardest part. LOL

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge.