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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

E-Book Pilot Exposes Library Challenges

User friendliness and breadth of selection mean everything when it comes to library e-books, according to the results of the Massachusetts eBook Project Survey.

The project included a pilot program to test three e-book platforms (Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360, BiblioLabs’ Biblioboard, and ProQuest’s EBL) with 49 libraries (28 public, 10 academic, eight school, and three special libraries) from November 2013 through summer 2014. At the crux of the pilot is the assertion that libraries want to lend more digital books and library patrons are interested in borrowing more e-books.

Surveys of participating librarians and patrons indicate that may be easier said than done. Both groups voiced irritation with the user interface to search e-book collections and access titles. Each platform worked a little differently and changed features during the pilot, but much of the frustration stemmed from the platforms’ interaction with the reading devices. Patrons were using a wide variety—iPads, desktops and laptops, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, other tablets—and some functioned better with one platform than the others. Kindles had the most problems.

“In general, there were technical problems downloading the software and getting it to work, checking out materials to the device. The software platforms were not intuitive,” commented one librarian on the survey. “People gave up after a few unsuccessful attempts.”

The selection of titles was also disappointing to both librarians and borrowers. Overall, patrons were seeking popular fiction, but there were also comments about limited academic and research content.

Survey participation was low and the age of patrons taking advantage of the e-book pilot tended to skew toward older adults, so the results of the pilot probably don’t provide a complete picture of digital readers, particularly college students. However, the difficulties documented in the project surveys reveal some of the obstacles all libraries face in offering greater access to e-books.

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