Is it possible to donate an eBook to the library?

Roger Sperberg wrote an interesting piece, “How to give away an ebook after you’ve read it” in the Teleread blog.  He discusses the idea of patrons purchasing an ebook to read for themselves and donating it to the library when they are finished.  Roger states, “If I buy an ebook of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, then it’s glued to me. Love it or hate it, I can’t give it to the library for others to read. So why doesn’t the library set up a program for donors: “Buy it in our name and we’ll lend it to you first.”I love the idea, Roger and wish it could happen.  I’m trying to think of the issues promoting and preventing this from happen, many of which were mentioned in comments to Roger’s article.  Unfortunately, my list of prohibitive items is much longer!  But I’d love to change it.  What else should be added to this list?How can we do this?

  • Can we tie this to patron driven acquisition models, allowing patrons to purchase a book with a credit card from our aggregator accounts rather than using our own money?  They can access the title first and when finished, it goes to the library.  Being in an academic library we usually purchase titles with unlimited simultaneous users, so I guess the “I get the book first” idea is a mute point.
  • Fictionwise’s libwise allows users to donate books to libraries….I don’t know much about this.  Do other aggregators allow this feature too?
  • Can libraries check out eBook readers and allow patrons to purchase titles they want to read then leave the title on the reader for the next user?  Something tells me this is a big copyright/licensing nightmare.

Prohibitive factors of eBook donations

  • Licensing, most individuals are purchasing an eBook with completely different licensing language, allowing for one person access.  Library licensing agreements are quite different.
  • DRM – how can we bypass the DRM placed on a $9.99 book in order to give the book to the library for open use?
  • Format – can the formats of eBooks even be read by the eBook interface at one’s library?
  • Cost – libraries generally pay more than list price for eBooks for a variety of reasons – 24/7  access, unlimited simultaneous users, etc.  Will users be willing to pay more than list price to donate a book to the library?
  • Subscriptions – many libraries purchase eBooks by subscribing to them rather than owning them…. but I guess donations could go towards the subscription price.
  • Subject collections – many academic libraries purchase eBooks based on a subject collection rather than individual titles.
  • Interfaces and readers – libraries are generally purchasing ebooks that run on a particular aggregator or publisher platform like EBL, ebrary, NetLibrary, Overdrive, Follett.  General users are typically purchasing eBooks from Amazon, Fictionwise, or other retail establishments.  How can we donate books to libraries when we aren’t even using the same tools to access?
  • Gift book policies – love em or hate em, weeding through the boxes of print books donated to a library collection generally have more chaff than wheat.  would the same be true with eBooks?
  • book sales – ah, the 25 cent steal you got at the local library book sale.  Will this disappear with eBooks?

2 thoughts on “Is it possible to donate an eBook to the library?”

  1. Sue,
    A very interesting idea. When you say, “libraries generally pay more than list price for eBooks for a variety of reasons…” it really makes me think that this new model of downloading ebooks to mobile devices has the potential to transform the current relationship between academic libraries and publishers. If we use the public library/Overdrive model and DRM protect ebooks, we ought to be able to get back to licenses from publishers that won’t end up bankrupting us. For example, if only one user at a time can view one copy of an ebook for a set loan period, why should we pay for any number of concurrent users, or pay by FTE etc? I’ve just started my own blog to discuss ebook reader technology from my perspective in the Collection Development Department of the University of Toronto Library. I have a post here where I go into more detail:

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