Should Libraries Develop Their Own eBook Reader?

<strong> LISNewsterz, chime in please with your ideas, suggestions, recommendations on this idea from <a href="">Nate Hill, Brooklyn Public Library</a>.</strong> I dropped this thought on the publib listserv the other day and got very little response. Perhaps this is a better forum? What if instead of using tools like the Amazon Kindle or the Sony reader, public libraries designed and built their own electronic reader tool? This way we wouldn't be trying to apply someone else's service point clumsily within in our own unique system. It seems to be a common thread lately that librarians want to go open source and build their own tools, usually in reference to software. What if we applied the same idea to hardware? What if this product was developed by OCLC or ALA or Web Junction or something, and then made available to your library at an affordable rate? One interesting thought came from a guy named Gareth Osler in the UK: "I'm not sure about the need to build a complete new machine, but some standards and software to manage rights (e.g. delete a book after so many weeks unless a 'renew' key is used) could be developed, and installed on consumer readers. That way a user could use their own reader to read library ebooks as long as the reader supported the library standards/software." I liked Osler's angle- its annoying to have to carry around too many different devices, and since everyone has a cellphone, really everyone has a reader already. But I wonder... if in fact public libraries offered Kindle-like readers for checkout, would they become popular simply because of the anonymity they offer? Your cellphone is a remarkably un-private device, but a library ebook reader could offer privacy. Public libraries protect the rights of their patrons to privately access whatever information they want. This is why many people like to access the internet from our public computers: there is a guaranteed anonymity that you might not get when you log onto a website from home. It strikes me that this could make a mobile library device desirable as well.


The biggest problems with e-book readers aren't really the devices. It's the BS one has to go through to put content on it. You can make a device that everyone would want. Something that you can easily put e-books onto, lend it freely, "lend" e-books from device to device so that title is gone from your device while the other person has it, easy to read, easy to use, and while we're really playing with this concept let's also say it's just as good as a book.

That's not the problem.

Publishers don't want people to have that device. Your device will be useless without their content and they control the content. It'd be one thing if they had a blanket policy for all titles, but they don't and probably won't anytime soon. The new Patterson will have different rights than the book before it, and those rights will be different than the other Patterson books before that. You might be able to lend some, but not all. You'll be able to search some, but not all. Copy and paste will be enabled for certain books and not others.

The point is that you can make the most wonderful device in the world that does everything that the consumer or patron wants... and you'll have a hell of a time getting anything on it because what the consumer wants and what the publisher wants are usually two completely different things.

Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) @ Penny Arcade

This is an article about a somewhat large digital library:

Libraries step into the age of iPod

I'd point out that we're not just talking iPods here, but any similar player, which may include your mobile.

Yes- Brooklyn Public Library offers downloadable content via Overdrive. In fact Overdrive's digital bookmobile will be parked in Grand Army Plaza all day this coming Tuesday! Definitely an event worth attending. I'll be working there from 10-12 myself, so feel free to come visit me. Here's more information on that event:

Putting all that workplace stuff aside, I fully understand the difficulties that 'Great Western Dragon' describes in working with publishers on something like this. You can't expect the rights to all different books to be standardized in a competitive marketplace. BUT- there are plenty of books that are already immediately available; I've got all of Shakespeare on my iPhone. Thats nice for me since I can afford an iPhone (kind of) but what a bummer for the junior high school kid who doesn't have one or cannot afford one. I work at a pretty large public library and I assure you that we run out of print copies of A Misummer Nights Dream when its assigned at school. So, I'm not proposing that this reader would work for ALL titles in a library, in fact most of my favorite books are image-heavy and would be pretty lame on a digital reader. But what about all of those classic titles that we reorder over and over and over again? Wouldn't this be an efficient way of offering them?

If you're looking at Project Gutenberg-style materials, there are plenty of programs out there already for this. In many cases, Project Gutenberg files are flat ASCII text. I would imagine there are multiple programs already for reading such on PDAs and Smartphones with Palm devices. Windows Mobile devices are probably not as easy to service for that but that is due to architectural issues and platform posturing maybe.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

Who exactly would design, test, build, market and support this "library" player?


Answering that question is the point of starting this conversation- if in fact there is any kind of consensus that it is worthwhile.

I think the reason I started throwing names like OCLC and the ALA around was simply to make it clear that I wasn't talking about doing it in my basement. What if OCLC took it on? Thinking out loud here...

For OCLC, the big concern is how to make some sort of profit on such so as to get beyond just mere cost recovery. Such has been an influence that has brought us to what we see now in from the original project launch in 2003.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F


I had forgotten about Project Gutenberg. This is a perfect source for content. So your local library would check out a device to you loaded with whatever content you wanted from that particular source. The trick is just to develop a really, really inexpensive and durable reader and to find a way to make sure people return them. The reader could have a built in loan period that would make materials expire and self-delete if the reader itself wasn't returned to the library...

@ stephen sorry I spelled your name wrong.

Not to worry Nate! I am called many names. When I am out substitute teaching sometimes that can take the form of colorful uses of swear words. It's all good.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

I think every step taken towards libraries that are selfsufficent is a step in the right direction.