By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Region – The Massachusetts Library System (MLS), in conjunction with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, is conducting a pilot program known as the MA eBook Project to study the concept of sharing an electronic collection with libraries statewide. Among the 51 participants are the public libraries in Hudson and Shrewsbury, and the Fay School Library in Southborough. The project officially launched in November with an initial plan to run for six months. It has now been extended through June.
MLS partnered with two vendors. Over 3,000 e-books are available from Baker & Taylor via its Axis 360 digital media circulation platform. Over 30,000 e-books and other materials are available on an unlimited multi-user basis from BiblioLabs through its BiblioBoard platform.
Among the primary goals is to determine the most efficient way to distribute e-content statewide, noted Greg Pronevitz, MLS executive director.
“We hope to learn if this is a user-friendly model,” he said. “We want to make sure that we'se being more efficient than the existing models for e-books by doing it in a single platform. We want to create a collection that will increase resource sharing in Massachusetts.”
Deborah Kane, the technical services librarian at the Hudson Public Library, appreciates being involved with the project. She heard from other library staff members that it's user-friendly.
“Their comments have been very positive,” she said. “They were able to figure out how to get an e-book onto their device without yet another learning curve.”
The project addresses reasons why some current business models for e-book sales are less conducive for libraries. Now, libraries are typically charged more for e-books. Also, the number of times an e-book can be borrowed is sometimes limited.
Mike Zeller, the electronic resources librarian at the Shrewsbury Public Library, explained the frustration shared by others working in his position.
“In the past with print books, libraries often got discounts because they were buying in bulk and there was an actual product exchanging hands,” he said. “Whereas now with e-books, nine times out of 10 we pay probably 50 percent markup or more. The publishers” logic is that e-books will never wear out and won's need to be replaced, and they'sl lose sales because people won's buy an e-book if they can borrow it from the library.”
Ellen Dolan, the director of the Shrewsbury Public Library, is hopeful that the project will lead to improvements.
“We are hoping that an enough influence can be made by creating a library-centric model, so that publishers will begin to feel the pressure,” she said. “We want to own the content so that we can take it from this platform to whatever platform we want. And we want more control over the usage parameters.”
Sharon Lux is the director of the Fay School Library, which serves pre-kindergarten through grade nine. Although she has found that MA eBook Project's current collection doesn's include the research material that her students would want to access electronically, she supports the project's goals.
“It's the only way school libraries will be able to access these kinds of resources at an affordable price,” she said. “Perhaps my school doesn's have a particularly large demand for e-books because we serve young kids who like print, but I believe in the long-term goal of this project. When these 8-year-olds become high school students, they'sl definitely need access to e-books and this program will allow that to be in existence.”
An introduction to the MA eBook Project will be presented Wednesday, March 19, at 3 p.m., at the Hudson Public Library; and Tuesday, March 25, at 5 p.m., at the Shrewsbury Public Library.