The Open eBook Forum Takes on the Library Perspective

Jun 27, 2003

Undoubtedly one of ebooks early adopters, the library market has had more experience--successful and painful--with ebooks than most. Yet to date, there has been little opportunity for library professionals to interact with vendors and standards-makers in order to influence the evolution of the format. However, the Open eBook Forum, the trade and standards association for the ebook industry, recently created a Library Special Interest Group charged with addressing ebook issues from a library perspective. The SIG was formed to enable publishers, ebook resellers, DRM, software, and hardware members to better appreciate the opportunities and challenges of service for libraries and their patrons. The Forum hopes that the SIG garners participation from corporate, public, and academic environments--even from non-members.

Nick Bogaty, the executive director of the Open eBook Forum, said that as of June, the Library to Vendor/Tech Company ratio of membership is about 50/50; there are 200 companies subscribed to the mailing list and about 25 members participate in teleconference calls every Tuesday. The SIG schedules issue discussions and general business discussions on alternating weeks. The group also boasts an active online discussion area with topics including selecting ebooks, archiving for future use, format challenges, ownership issues, and production costs and pricing of eBooks, and patron rights associated with eBooks (i.e. right to print, duration of right to read).

The group is chaired by Pamela Smith, senior vice president and CMO at Baker & Taylor and Loree Potash, marketing director of OverDrive. Members of the SIG include the American Library Association, ABC-CLIO, OverDrive, Library of Congress, Baker & Taylor, eBrary, netLibrary, and a wide variety of public and academic libraries. Bogaty said there are currently no corporate libraries participating in the SIG but hopes that will change as he believes that their participation would be extremely beneficial.

Participation in the group is open to the public for the time being. According to Bogaty, "The OeBF made the Library SIG open to public participation to promote the involvement of libraries that might not necessarily be able to afford the OeBF membership dues," which start at $900 per year. The primary of the SIG, says Bogaty, "is to foster good implementation of ebooks into libraries and to work out any business, technical, or legal barriers to that implementation." As long as this goal is being accomplished, participation in the SIG will remain open to the public.

One of the SIG's key activities will be to direct an ebook usage survey on behalf of the eBook Forum. The objectives of the survey will be to measure current ebook usage in libraries (public/academic) and to measure and calculate future adoption rates and basic barriers/issues surrounding adoption. The SIG will be responsible for developing the survey methodology, overseeing the distribution of the survey, and analyzing and publishing the results. The surveys are to be distributed September 1, 2003 and the results expected to be published by October 31, 2003.

Shafath Syed, Product Manager for ePublishing at Adobe noted that librarians tried early ebook solutions but found the dedicated devices too expensive and restrictive. Proprietary format was also an issue; librarians were faced with choosing one technology and vendor, which resulted in unduly restricting their content. Adobe, who Bogaty describes as "very active in the Library SIG because they have a product that can be used in the library setting," licenses software to library distributors such as Baker & Taylor and Overdrive. Adobe started working more closely with librarians about a year ago the company believes that their products address both of those problems for the community. Tom Prehn from Adobe, who is on the sub-committee, believes that the SIG provides Adobe with the opportunity to learn about issues from librarians in order to improve their products early in the product development lifecycle.

"The SIG provides an ideal setting for librarians to help publishers and other related vendors better understand the needs of library settings for eBooks." Syed said. He also expressed his hopes that one of the outcomes of the Library SIG will be a willingness on the part of more publishers to permit lending of ebooks.