Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Ongoing eBook Morass

My thanks to for a posting that got me thinking this morning about the morass that is the state of ebooks in libraries.

I have been having an email exchange with InterVarsity Press trying to obtain permission to provide online access to articles from their New Testament dictionary series for course reserves. It turns out that IVP has already licensed their material via Logos's Essential IVP Reference Collection which is strictly CD-based, and thus they cannot provide permission for online use of their materials in another format. As I grumbled to IVP, CD-based materials are untenable for us to support distance and online education -- we need access to web-based materials for our students.

The sad reality is that the ebook is still a great concept in search of the right technology. There is a great paper by Linda Wilkins and Paula Swatman from the 19th Bled eConference in June, 2006 entitled E-Book Technology in Libraries: An Overview. A quote from the end of their paper:

"Despite attempts by the Open E-book Forum (now The International Digital Publishing Forum) to provide general access to electronic content, a wide variety of proprietary standards still exist rendering most e-books compatible only with certain devices. The lack of an agreed standard implies that an ‘agreeable machine’ to deliver books to a mass audience has not yet arrived on the scene (Turney 2005)."

And the scenery has not changed in the past two years. As the Library Journal reported last month, an experiment by the Sparta Public Library in New Jersey in loaning out's Kindle not only runs afoul of's license, it represents quite a financial risk in terms of the cost of the equipment and content that one is allowing to walk out the door. Perhaps a more hopeful model of the use of ebooks in a library setting is the North Suburban Digital Consortium right here in the Chicago area.

Which brings me back to the posting at pointing out the absurdities of trying to make ebooks available via interlibrary loan (if the license even allows one to do so). What at first blush should be a technology that increases the availability of a resource by making it easily transmittable, in reality is a technology that only serves to trap that resource in a complicated web of copyright restrictions. Librarians have already been dealing with the complexities of ejournal licensing which can sometimes be different title-by-title within packages provided by the same vendor. As the ebook grows in popularity and available formats, we will likely find ourselves equally perplexed with sorting through the conflicting restrictions of ebook licenses.

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