Smug about OverDrive? A whopping 39 percent of U.S. public libraries don’t offer downloadable e-books. Does D.C. care? E-textbooks are no substitute, Mr. President

imageHundreds and hundreds of visitors have read LibraryCity‘s proposal for the sale of OverDrive to public libraries or a related nonprofit. The idea drew favorable reaction from Thad McIlroy, a prominent publishing consultant, and it even made an ALA newsletter and Reddit.

Still not convinced of the possibilities? Well, consider that 39 percent of U.S. public libraries don’t offer downloadable e-books. Check it out for yourself. Meanwhile, ironically, Rockford, Illinois, is ODing on e-books, while many U.S. communities are so cash-strapped or e-backwards that they lack any.

Or maybe not quite so backwards. Remember, with OverDrive as a middleman, many public librarians might not feel quite as comfortable with e-books as they would if publishers and libraries could deal more directly with each other. All kinds of uncertainties arise with middlemen, not just over ownership of the books, but over the purchasing clout that librarians are missing because they’re not in charge. An OverDrive sale wouldn’t eliminate all the questions. But it would help.

Here’s to a well-stocked national digital public library system—and sufficient funding at all levels, so that even the poorest communities can enjoy library e-books and other digital goodies! Of course, that also means making the e-book capable devices available in sufficient quantities to interested but disadvantaged residents.

Across the river from me in Washington, D.C., President Obama and friends still don’t understand. Digital textbooks for schoolchildren aren’t enough. We need a national digital library system—blended in with local libraries and schools—for all Americans. The Digital Public Library of America has its homework cut out for it. May the DPLA care more about access issues and think about separate public and academic library systems so that mass needs don’t get forgotten amid those of higher education and research! The sale of OverDrive to America’s public libraries, or an organization serving their interests and their patrons’, would be a great start. And OverDrive could become part of or participate in a joint technical services organization shared with academic libraries, with the DPLA involved.

Detail: OverDrive has done a remarkable marketing job, and the company has many other positives. It’s just that the business model isn’t as sustainable as the one I’m proposing. I’d love to see the current OverDrive people involved as advisers to the sold company in the interest of continuity, just so they understood the need for modernization, such as the carefully phased in replacement of the current DRM-centric technology.

Note: This is an evolving document, and I’ll be making changes to refine the ideas here.

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on “Smug about OverDrive? A whopping 39 percent of U.S. public libraries don’t offer downloadable e-books. Does D.C. care? E-textbooks are no substitute, Mr. President
One Comment on “Smug about OverDrive? A whopping 39 percent of U.S. public libraries don’t offer downloadable e-books. Does D.C. care? E-textbooks are no substitute, Mr. President
  1. Pingback: Should Libraries Get Out of the eBook Business? | Librarian by Day

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