January 23, 2022

Public Libraries: Contra Costa Libraries on Overdrive Trying to Meet Demands for e-Books

We posted an article from The Washington Post about five weeks ago that reported delays in ebook demand outstripping supply at several metro DC area libraries. Today, something similar from Contra Costa County, California. As the year moves forward (and as we noted in January) expect to see more of these reports from around libraryland as the year moves forward

Where does a poor user experience with ebook access via a local library mean for ALL libraries?

A lot of has been written about ebook access in the media and users want to take a look and we’re not delivering what they’re expecting. That’s not good for both the user and the library. We’re afraid that this situation will only reinforce the idea that libraries are not easy to use and irrelevant, ebooks and all. Sure, there are often delays in accessing popular print titles but we haven’t done a great job in explaining how ebooks are acquired by libraries. For many, ebooks, even more than grabbing a print title, are about INSTANT gratification (24 x 7 access from anywhere) and this can mean that the library is not able to deliver where and when users expect it. Not good.

As noted in the article and something we’ve seen many other places, access to Project Gutenberg titles are available without delay. That’s great and these books can be a worthwhile alternative for some readers. However, we’re not sure for how long someone wanting to read a current bestseller or another title with a valid copyright is going to want hear that Gutenberg titles are available. Of course, Project Gutenberg titles are have been available for MANY years without having to use the OverDrive or any other provider.

One final point, as libraries spend more and more of their budgets on ebooks what does this mean for any remaining commitment for print collections let alone other services? Where is the line between giving the people what they want vs. the reality of budgets and providing a variety of services beyond ebook access fall? What does this mean for the long term?

From the Contra Costa Times:

You can get the latest from John Lescroart or Debbie Macomber on your e-reader free from the Contra Costa Library, but you’ll have to wait.

On Tuesday, the waiting list for the digital version of Lescroart’s “Damage” was 14 readers deep. The e-line for Macomber’s “Sandpiper Way” was at 49. With checkout times of seven or 14 days, it could be summer before either book was delivered to your Kindle, iPad or other device.

There are approximately 1,500 e-books and a similar number of audio books available online from the library, and they’re flying off the virtual shelves. Of the nearly 3,000 e-books and audio books titles online, 2,558 were checked out this week, said library Information Systems Project Manager Paula MacKinnon.

The good news is many patrons return books early, so the wait might be shorter. The library is adding new titles every month via an online server called OverDrive. Also, unlimited copies of more than 15,000 classics are available to download free via Project Gutenberg.


The bad news is that e-books are still a wild frontier. Many major publishers are either refusing to sell titles to libraries or charging a premium — sometimes near $100 for a single title. Add a library materials budget that in the past three years was cut by 56 percent, and balancing digital versus paper copies can get complicated, said Deputy County Librarian Cathy Sanford.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.