Ebook Platforms in Libraries: A new report in the works

I am in the midst of developing a library technology report for ALA TechSource (a unit of the publishing department of the American Library Association), due out in the Spring of 2013. The focus: ebook platforms in libraries. As I am amassing information about various products from publishers and aggregators on the specifics of each platform, I’ve decided to open it up to a broader audience in the early stages of the writing process and obtain feedback from all who may benefit.

Publishers and aggregators: Please take a moment to read the proposed contents of the report (below) and let me know where your products fit and why. I plan to cover a variety of resources.

Librarians: What are your main frustrations when selecting ebook platforms? Please take a moment to consider if the details I plan to include about each product will help you make informed purchasing decisions.

I’ll be accepting suggestions through the end of November. Thanks for speaking your mind. It matters.


 Ebook Platforms in Libraries will provide the following:

  • A detailed overview of e-platforms available in libraries
  • Explanations of how ebook platforms specifically (those that house e-versions of print books online) differ from other types of e-platforms (e.g., databases with born digital content)
  • Overview of the key players in the business of aggregating and distributing ebooks to academic, public, and school libraries
  • Suggestions to librarians on how to determine which ebook platforms best suit their institutions’ needs
  • Side-by-side comparisons of similar ebook platforms (see criteria below)

Contents & Context

Librarians are inundated with the choices available to them when deciding which ebook platforms to purchase. Some serve as tools for lending books to patrons; others serve as research tools. Some are available directly from content producers (publishers); others come from distributors and aggregators. Some have general appeal and are suitable for various types of libraries; others have strong scholarly undertones and are only appropriate for graduate collections. Some are broad in coverage and include a range of categories and genres; others are subject-specific or publisher-specific and target niche markets.

Not only do librarians need to keep up with the number of electronic platforms available on the market, they also need to keep up with how each is evolving. As publishers continue to experiment with business models, consolidate content, and merge with competition (a common practice in the industry), librarians need help figuring out how to sort through the options and choose what to purchase based on the criteria set forth by the institutions they serve. Many things come into play, with pricing and access usually at the top of the list of priorities.

This report will provide a comprehensive overview of the various types of ebook platforms available to libraries, specifically the platforms that house electronic versions of books available in print (thus preserving the “book” format online). The report will not include collections of journal platforms, unless they also include ebooks (more on this below).

Each platform will be described in sufficient detail and comparative charts will be provided throughout, examining, among other things, the following:

  • technical requirements (e.g., browsers, plug-ins required, hand-held devices supported)
  • type of library (e.g., public and academic, academic only, K-12 only)
  • targeted audience (e.g., general, high school, undergraduate, graduate)
  • multimedia options
  • type of content (e.g., trade publications, monographs, reference books)
  • categories, if applicable (e.g., general, popular fiction and nonfiction, humanities)
  • size and scope (e.g., number of titles, number of publishers)
  • purchase options
  • searchability (e.g., book level, article level)
  • DRM restrictions
  • Trials

Types of platforms covered

  • General ebook platforms (an overview of the key players in the field — including OverDrive, ebrary, eBooks on EBSCOhost, and others — and major, multi-publisher ebook platforms in public, academic, and school libraries)
  • Publisher-specific platforms (ebook platforms hosted by the publishers who produce the original content, e.g., The ABC-CLIO eBook Collection; Oxford Reference)
  • Subject-specific platforms (the focus here is on the platforms housing ebooks on the same or similar subjects; Note: specialized scholarly databases and indexes will not be covered here; that alone warrants a separate report).
  • Multi-content platforms (an overview of platforms on the cutting edge of e-content development, including products that merge ebook content with other types of content, such as articles or scholarly monographs; e.g., JStor, Project MUSE, and Cambridge University Press’s University Publishing Online.)


Thoughts? Suggestions? Please share them by emailing me at mirela@mirelaroncevic.com or posting a reply on NSR site.


2 thoughts on “Ebook Platforms in Libraries: A new report in the works”

  1. Mirela, I’m delighted to know someone is researching this subject. This is probably an unnecessary suggestion, but please consider the accessibility of each platform for persons with disabilities of all kinds. See the new ARL report on library services to patrons with print disabilities: http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/print-disabilities-tfreport02nov12.pdf.

    And what about the financial requirements of each platform, such as the various costs to a library and the cost to patrons to purchase devices needed to access content on the platform?

    Michael Henry Starks

  2. Things I’m interested in, from my perspective at Unglue.it:

    What are the limitations of these platforms? For instance, libraries generally underexploit free content because it’s not in them. Can people add, say, Project Gutenberg books, or do they have to be in separate silos?

    License management in general. Do they appropriately handle Creative Commons licensed content?

    What are the alternatives to these platforms? If you *don’t* buy a vendor platform, what are your econtent provision options?

    Interoperability and hackery. What data can you get in and out, and how easy is it? What sorts of statistics do the platforms provide? How hard is it to hack them to provide more? Do they have APIs? If so, what can you do with them? Are they well-documented? Is there a developer community? Are there existing open-source apps built on top of that API that you can use to extend your platform?

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