Digital Library Branch – The Time is Now

At the Imagine.Create.Innovate conference held at Rochester Public Library, there was a lot of talk about the future of libraries. Where we are now. Where we might be going. What we need to do if we are to move in a direction that helps libraries and, more importantly, helps our communities.

Jamie LaRue was keynote speaker for the first day of the two-day event. The short version of his speech: “The mission of the public library is to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture.”  Wait, that’s big. Let me say repeat that.

“The mission of the public library is to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture.”

This means not only curating and preserving, but also enabling those who create the intellectual content of our culture. Providing free access to it. Publishing it. And of course, sorting it and cataloging it all.

The “threat” of ebooks has many wringing their hands wondering if libraries can remain relevant going forward. Jamie did extensive research before embarking on the creation of a digital library branch for his community. He found that 20% of his readers prefer ebooks. Despite this, his library’s ebooks comprised far less than 20% of the collection. He noted that his collection of ebooks is always checked out. The same is true in Rochester – we just don’t have enough ebooks yet to meet the demand.

The fact is, publishers are making it very difficult for libraries to circulate ebooks. The restrictions are high. The costs are high. And many publishers won’t sell ebooks to libraries at all.

So what is a creative, innovative solution to this problem? If you ask Jamie LaRue, he’ll tell you to spend less time worrying about the Big Six publishers and focus your efforts on independent small press publishers and self-publishing authors.

He set up an Adobe Content Server for ebooks that his library would purchase. He set up a second server at clicweb.org for items in the public domain. He dug up Creative Commons content. And then he set up agreements with publishers.

The result of all this is a ebook catalog that pulls together all econtent to one place. Adobe Content Server attaches DRM, and regulates the check out to Adobe-enabled devices in order to restrict the use to one user at a time, and to disable the content at the end of a due date.

Take a look at Douglas County Library’s digital branch. They have set a precedent with this, which is useful to all of us.