Cleveland Library Overhauls E-Books; Bestsellers on Tap

The Cleveland Public Library announced plans yesterday for an electronic book-lending service it claims will be the first in the country to offer e-books readable on almost any PC or personal digital assistant.

The service, set to debut in March, will let patrons borrow e-book versions of the latest works of best-selling authors such as Michael Crichton, Neil Gaiman, Tony Hillerman, Clive Barker and Joyce Carol Oates, according to the Cleveland Public Library.

“In the past, e-books were loaded on a device and the device itself was loaned, or a lot of libraries had 'Netlibrary' or 'Ebrary' where you could download it to your computer, but you couldn't download it to your Palm … and that's why e-books haven't taken off in libraries,” said Sari Feldman, deputy director, Cleveland Public Library.

Another reason library e-book programs haven't taken off, she said, is “libraries had e-books nobody wanted to read.”

Indeed, Cleveland Public Library's current e-book program offers CliffsNotes and other little-used business titles. It hopes to debut its new e-book program with about 1,000 titles.

To develop the service, the library bought a technology/service called Digital Library Reserve from OverDrive Inc. for a $50,000 set-up fee.

OverDrive, also in Cleveland, has digital distribution deals with HarperCollins Publishers, McGraw-Hill, Oxford University Press, Scholastic Inc., John Wiley & Sons, Penton Technology Media and others, giving customers the option of buying e-books from those publishers or offering content of their own.

The service also allows consumers, or patrons in the case of a library, to download and borrow audio books.

After the loan period is complete, the e-book automatically becomes unusable. As a result, e-book borrowers don't have to worry about late fees.

Also, Digital Library Reserve offers publishers “digital rights management” by, for example, letting them disable printing, cutting, pasting and file-sharing functions on their e-books and preventing library patrons from printing them out.

As a result, Cleveland Public Library will buy a finite number of copies of the e-books, and there will be waiting lists for the popular ones similar to those for print books. Also like print lending programs, borrowers will be able to renew, but only if there is no waiting list for the title, Feldman said.

“We're going to monitor this very closely,” Feldman said. “And just like a print book, when we need to buy more copies because the waiting list is greater than the size of a waiting list we like to have on a book, we add copies into the circulation, we'll add copies to the e-book [program],” she said. She added that the library tries to ensure that no more than five people are waiting for a given copy.

Cleveland Public Library's e-book initiative aims to reach patrons who have stopped going to its branches. As a result, it is also letting people get their library cards online.

“We really intend to capture our so-called virtual customer,” Feldman said, “customers that are a potential market for us, but who are not going to come into our buildings anymore. All of our Web services attract a large number of business people who have drifted away from relying on libraries for business information.”

The library also will have a kiosk for patrons who want to download books on the premises.

The Cleveland library has 28 branches. Any Ohioan is eligible for a Cleveland Public Library Card.

Cleveland Public Library also manages the automated and electronic offerings of 30 other libraries in nine counties in Ohio under an initiative called CleveNet. Those libraries will take part in the new e-book program as well, Feldman said.

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