E-books are coming – what will change?

The FinELib consortium of the National Library of Finland has negotiated an agreement with Ellibs Ltd, which will enable Finnish public libraries to purchase e-books from the company’s selection offered to libraries. This gives all public libraries the opportunity to offer electronic books to their patrons.

Introducing a new type of material poses new challenges for libraries, e.g. how will the work with collections change when library staff handles electronic files as opposed to real volumes of works. How will patrons find the online collections? What type of consultation does the library staff need?

‘Vaski’ libraries

‘Vaski’ is a cooperating body of nine library organisations in Western Finland, which have a joint library system, joint principles and conventions of operation and regulations for use. Eight additional libraries will be joining ‘Vaski’ in the spring of 2012. The joint library system enables libraries belonging to the ‘Vaski’ system to share collections, and, indeed, volumes are flexibly transported from one library to another according to the patrons’ needs.

Cooperation associated with the collections in ‘Vaski’ libraries will be further consolidated in the future; one objective being to compile common principles related to the collections. Creating a joint e-book collection was the first concrete step towards a joint collection because an e-book collection is by nature genuinely and fundamentally common to these libraries.

A fundamentally common collection

Launching an e-book into use is not dependent on time and place in the same way as the volumes in an actual collection. Patrons can download an ebook from the online service even when the library itself is closed; all they need is a library card for the ‘Vaski’ system and a password. In this way, the collection is fundamentally available to all the people who are patrons of the ‘Vaski’ libraries. What’s more, the use of the system cannot be limited based on, for example, patronage to a certain ‘Vaski’ library or the municipality where a patron lives.

An e-book collection cannot, therefore, be created by considering the needs of the patrons in a single library as in the case of an actual collection. Instead, consideration must be given to the type of e-book collection that would serve all of the patrons in all of the ‘Vaski’ libraries. Moreover, the costs of purchasing the collection should be divided in a jointly agreed way, i.e. in proportion to the population of the municipalities.

But what type of collection?

The first e-book collection in the ‘Vaski’ libraries, which contains approximately 300 keywords, is a type of trial collection within which new types of materials and their distinctive features are encompassed. The experiences acquired from administrating and using the system dictate the selection of material and the management of the collection in the future.

The following issues needed to be considered when making the selection: Is there a certain theme particularly desired in electronic format, should we purchase an electronic version of a work already in print, should the ebooks complement the real collection or should they offer something completely new alongside the existing collection, are there disciplines with the best and most recent works primarily in electronic format?

Demand also poses limitations on selection. For example, there is a limited selection of material essential to public libraries, Finnish fiction, available due to reasons related to copyrights – mostly publications from small publishers and self-published works. Material geared towards young people is available on occasion, and there are no e-books for children at all.

The collection in use now consists mainly of material related to society, law, data processing, business and commerce and marketing. Most of the books are in English. The contents of the collection reflect that which is available for libraries in online bookshops.

How to find e-books?

You do not bump into an e-book by chance in a library, nor are they on the shelf of returned books. Ways of presenting e-material and making it readily available to patrons is something that needs to be considered. All the e-books in the ‘Vaski’ libraries are categorized and described in the ‘Vaski’ system. There is a link in the descriptions that allows patrons to loan the book through the Ellibs service.

When the collection is introduced at the beginning of October, it will be marketed to patrons and they will be offered consultation on how to obtain the e-material through hands-on guidance if necessary. This is not, however, enough because e-material must be advertised constantly and the ways in which this online collection is to be made visible not only on web pages but in the library as well must be considered. In the future we could organise exhibitions related to the topics of the most widely read books, put brochures about e-books on the library shelves with the same category or even project descriptions/ pictures about the books on the wall.We also need a type of ‘new acquisitions’ shelf where we can advertise the new e-books purchased for the collection.We should be especially acute to the feedback from patrons concerning the collection at this initial stage.

Getting information about using e-books

The current model used in public libraries for obtaining e-books is through the Ellibs service. When a patron finds an interesting e-book through the ‘Vaski’ system, (s)he logs into the Ellibs service and downloads the work onto his/her computer, ebook reader or mobile device.

The works offered by Ellibs to libraries are in PDF format, DRM-protected and only one reader at a time can use each work. It is possible to copy and paste parts of some works and then print them out. The PDF format causes problems when using the e-books with smartphones especially. Some studies, e.g. Aalto University, indicate that the DRM-protection may also cause problems.

Statistics pertaining to the use of ebooks can be viewed when you sign into the Ellibs service with the ADMIN ID for the ‘Vaski’ libraries. You can see how many times each work has been borrowed. For libraries, it is problematic not to be able to follow up more compre- hensively on how the collection is used, i.e. there should be information about whether certain patrons borrow a certain e-book(s) often, do they use e-books occasionally or systematically, what category of material is being circulated, are there patrons that have begun to read only e-books and does the loaning of e-books have an impact on the actual collections of books in the library and, if so, in what way.

The question of statistics is also an interesting issue. Obviously each ‘Vaski’ library reports the number of joint ebooks that have been borrowed. However, there is no information about how many patrons in a single library have used these books.

The availability of e-books is not what it should be yet

This is thus the first experience ‘Vaski’ libraries have had with e-books and the library-like use of them. Little by little, as we obtain more information about the use of the collection and the distinctive characteristics of that use, we will be able to agree on the issues pertaining to the management of the collection, such as book removal and ‘storage’. As with selection, the management of the e-book collection also calls for joint agreements and principles.

Since we do not have much experience in the use of this new type of loan material, some areas of development can be mentioned at this point, one of the most important ones being to offer patrons the most sought after domestic fiction in the form of e-books. At its best, the library could answer to peaks in demand by increasing the user rights of e-books. E-books should be better integrated into the libraries’ collections and data systems to facilitate the gathering of statistics concerning the use of them more comprehensively.

In an ideal situation, e-books would be just one format among others and patrons could use e-books as it suits their needs in a given situation. Sometimes the best format for a book is a paperback or audio-book, sometimes a hardcover volume or an e-book. Patrons should have the freedom to choose which format best suits their needs at any given time.

With regard to classical music, we have come closer to granting patrons freedom of choice; patrons can choose whether they listen to a piece of music at home through the Naxos remote service, or whether they borrow a CD from the collection at the library. It seems that the increased use of Naxos explains, at least in part, the decrease in loans of classical music records.

Kaisa Hypén
Service Manager
Turku City Library
kaisa.hypen AT

Service manager Turku City Library