Borrow an e-book The e-bookcase

e-books will undoubtedly be important to the library’s users and thereby to the libraries. For that reason alone it is vital for the libraries to become part of the development. A medium becoming digital does not change the fact that the libraries will maintain their mediatory role in terms of literature and can facilitate reading and qualify and support the readers’ choice. It has therefore been of great importance to launch a new and modern e-book service.

A recently signed agreement between the Danish public libraries and publishers gives library users access to the loan of a wide selection of e-books. A new website is being launched at the same time, and a mobile application that enables library users to collect ebooks “on-the-go”. The idea is that the new e-book service will spread the knowledge and use of e-books in Denmark.

Danish libraries can now offer library users the chance to borrow a great variety of e-books. To start with you have a choice between more than 3,000 titles, but many more are expected to be added to that number. The catalogue contains both fiction and the ‘lighter’ part of non-fiction material. Thus a number of biographies as well at titles for children are on offer, but the main focus is to begin with on fiction.

The project has been carried out with funding from the Danish Agency for Libraries and Media, in a consortium consisting of nine large Danish local authorities, as well as a number of other partners such as, Danish Library Centre, Publizon and the two largest Danish publishing houses.

The project’s task has been to establish a new national e-book service for public library users, based on a platformindependent modern architecture, which via our national metadata repository (TING data well) can be integrated in the libraries’ user interfaces, and at the same time in a common portal and with mobile functionality. The e-book catalogue will thus be searchable in the library’s database at the same time as one entry is establishedon ( The project has been requested to establish a sustainable, durable and attractive e-book offer, and this includes literature mediation, partnership with publishers, working with new business models and new technology.

What is on offer?

Initially the service offers e-books for download based on DRM-protected ePub-files. This is i.a. out of consideration for the publishers who want maximum security in order to prevent pirate copying. The service is based on a service- oriented architecture (SOA), and the entire frontend is Open Source and consequently available to anyone else wanting to create something similar. The next phase in the project will be dealing with streaming and native App’s to iPhone/iPad, Android and perhaps Windows Mobile 7. Several business models will be tested, and efforts will be made to incorporate foreign e-books in the service.

The e-book case is a counterpart to (net audio – a service that lends net audio books and is based on identical principles and architecture. The common architecture facilitates integration to and from a number of other national library services. In this way user-created content, comments, rating, tags etc. are shared across all media. The users can find news and reviews of the book and themselves contribute with comments, just as they can get samples of the titles available – i.e. read the first chapter of a book before deciding whether they want to borrow it. A loan can be transferred to a PC/MAC or downloaded onto mobile units to be read in one’s preferred e-reader. It is, however, a precondition that the reader supports Adobe Digital DRM. The loan period is 30 days, and it is possible to renew.

The agreement

Among Danish publishers there is still great uncertainty as to the kind of importance e-books are going to achieve on the book market as such. The ebook consortium has discussed models and prices with two major Danish publishers in order to be able to formulate a framework agreement, which has subsequently been offered broadly to all publishers. More than 50 publishers have accepted the agreement, including most of the large, broadspectred publishers. This means that we can launch the e-bookcase with a very comprehensive catalogue and  therefore with substantial backing from the publishers, which was one of the success criteria.

Establishing consensus about an agreement has turned out to be quite a major undertaking. There are inevitably conflicts of interests. The libraries want cheap e-books and a model where one knows and can adjust the costs. The publishers want an agreement that does not make holes in the earnings expected from the sale of e-books. Both are quite legitimate interests and it therefore requires a delicate balance, which has taken time and a lot of preparatory work. The libraries have all along maintained that the loan of ebooks can stimulate sales. Just as we experienced it in the 1930s when Danish libraries gained the right to lend physical books.

Many models have been considered, including a flat rate agreement and the Overdrive model that is being used in many other countries, particularly the US. The latter has not been interesting to the libraries, because the limitations from the physical books are transferred to the digital version, which only makes sense in terms of the libraries’ cost management, but which on the other hand is a poor service in relation to the users. The agreement contains a model for the libraries’ payment to the publishers. As for the users – the service is free just as in the case of physical books. The agreement is ‘click-based’ – i.e. it costs a certain amount per download. There is a differentiation in price between new books and books with a publication date of more than 12 months ago. Moreover, there is an inbuilt discount ‘stepladder’ which means that the more e-books you download, the less you pay. The click price starts at DKK 18,50 (Euro 2,46) and drops to 16,50 (Euro 2,20) for the new titles. For older titles the prices move from DKK 15,00 (Euro 2,00) to DKK 13,00 (Euro 1,73). The discount stepladder’s cheapest rung is reached when 145,000 e-books have been loaned. Further conditions of the agreement are that – the libraries can determine an upper limit for the number of loans per borrower per month – the libraries can determine an upper limit for the budget per month – it is possible for the users to buy e-books directly
- you cannot cut or copy from the texts
- usage statistics are collected.

It is furthermore part of the agreement that publishers who have signed on must make their entire catalogue of current books available. This means that anything that can be bought can also be borrowed, and in this way the libraries avoid publishers e.g. omitting to make the authors’ most recent titles available for loan.

It is optional for the libraries to participate. In order to market the e-bookshelf, and thereby guarantee broad usage, the consortium has applied for DKK 1,000,000 (Euro 133,000) from the Danish Agency for Libraries and Media. If we get the money it will be used to halve the above prices until the money runs out.

We are now eagerly looking forward to finding out how the users react to the new service. A massive marketing initiative is on the cards digitally as well as in the urban space.We plan i.a. to erect virtual ‘bookcases’ in the urban space, which can be accessed via Augmented Reality – that is to say marketing the ebooks as a digital layer between reality and the person looking at it.

Bo Fristed
CIO – Culture & Citizens Services
City of Aarhus
Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

CIO – Culture & Citizens Services City of Aarhus