Blogger Kiera Parrott

eBook Collection Development

UPDATE 2/25/11: Overdrive announced today that one publisher (HarperCollins) is renegotiating lending terms so that library eBooks will expire after 26 checkouts.  If this happens (and if other publishers follow suit) it will dramatically impact how librarians structure their eBook collection development plans.  For more information, check out theMediaBistro recap and follow #hcod on Twitter.


If your library isn’t already offering digital downloads, you are probably thinking about it, worrying about it, or elbows deep into figuring out how to build a digital collection from scratch.  Such is the place I’ve recently found myself as my library begins planning our own digital collections strategy.

During the process of determining what kinds of digital materials to offer, which vendor(s) to investigate, and how to organize our digital collections, I found myself wondering if any librarians (particularly children’s librarians) had recently gone through a similar process and blogged about it.  I found a few excellent blog posts on issues related to DRM and licensing limitations, current library loaning practices, and hardware/software compatibility issues.  Sadly, though, I was not able to find much regarding how libraries should begin formulating a collection development strategy for eBooks or how we should begin the process of building digital collections.  In terms of digital collection development specific to children, it’s pretty sparse out on the Internets.

So, let’s start the conversation about developing digital collections for children here and now!

The following are some of the issues and considerations I’ve been mulling over, but I hope that other librarians will share their own experiences and bits of advice.

The Freebies:

There are a whole lot of public domain titles out there.  The problem is, a lot of them are super lame and of little to no interest to actual children.  With a little time and research, however, it is possible to assemble a pretty nice list children’s literature classics that are downloadable and 100% free.  Good examples include Five Children and It, The Secret Garden, Just So Stories, Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Around the World in 80 Days, Call of the Wild, and Black Beauty.  Not too shabby.

The question is, what is the best way to curate and deliver this free content to our patrons?

I’ve seen a few libraries, like Cuyahoga and NYPL, integrate Project Gutenberg holdings into their own online catalogs.  It looks pretty nice. The problem, however, seems to be that if you integrate Project Guttenberg eBooks, it’s an all or nothing solution.  You can download and integrate all of their content.  But being selective and picking and choosing a more refined collection (say, just a few dozen children’s classics rather than the thousands offered via Project Guttenberg) is not possible.  Along with children’s lit gems like Anne of Green Gables, you also get hundreds of strange and somewhat scary little oddballs like Carl and the Cotton Gin and The Mystery of a Turkish Bath clogging up the works.

Has anyone found other, better ways of curating collections of public domain materials through their library website?


The Stuff We Have to Buy:

Choosing a Vendor

From a cursory survey of some of the top rated public libraries in the country, it seems that over ninety percent use Overdrive as their primary vendor for digital materials (including eBooks, eAudio, video and music).  Overdrive is the big cheese at the moment.  They are, excluding some niche vendors specializing in adult non-fiction, technical books, and textbooks, pretty much the only game in town.

Other vendors include NetLibrary, Baker & Taylors Blio, and Gale.  For children’s eBooks, however, they don’t offer a whole lot.

(FYI, Recorded Books is rumored to launch a digital platform sometime this spring.)

Some eBook Buying Tips:

Once you have a vendor (or vendors, as the case may be), it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of developing an eBook collection.  This is the place at which I currently find myself.  I’ve been wading my way through vendor sites, looking at some of their pre-populated lists, playing with the advanced search, and generally trying to figure out what to buy.  The following are rough guidelines I’ve developed for myself and plan to use for staff training.

–   Popular titles: Get multiples, if budget allows.

The majority of eBook titles you purchase are single-access.  This means they can only be checked out by one patron at a time.  For super popular new titles it may be worth it to purchase three or more copies.  That is, until there is a better multi-access solution.

–   Classics: Check the public domain first!

Since The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a free download, you may not want to buy an eBook copy.  It all depends on how your library is able to organize the public domain content and direct patrons to those great freebies.  Snazzy, updated editions with wonderful illustrations and a forwards by a contemporary children’s author may warrant a special exception, however.

–   What are other great libraries buying?

When I began compiling a list of children’s eBooks I wanted to purchase for my library, I sneaked a peek at some of my favorite libraries to see what kinds of eBook titles they have for kids.  You can even limit by most popular eBooks.

–   Check the file type and know which ones work on which devices.

This still has the tendency to make my eyes glaze over, but it’s important for we the purchasers to know what kinds of digital content we are purchasing and who can use them.

The file format known as EPUB is the most versatile and compatible.  EPUB books will work on the Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, iPad, iPhone, various Android devices, and almost all other eReaders out there, with one big exception: Kindle.  (Oh, Kindle.  You break my heart.)

What library eBooks will work on a Kindle?  The newer Kindles are compatible with the PDF file type.  The downside to PDF is that it is a straight copy of the original book.  EPUB, on the other hand, is reflowable, which is fancy talk for “it looks nicer, fits the device screen better, and has the ability to do cooler stuff.”

As a general rule, I’ve been focusing my attention and budget on EPUB books, while trying to amass a modest collection of PDFs, thereby not leaving our Kindle users completely out in the cold.


Browsing and Searching for eBooks:

If you compare the Overdrive digital media platform as used by different libraries, you will notice some consistent features and some customizable ones.  If you are fortunate enough to have any input into the design of your library’s digital media site, some of those seemingly minor customizable features can have a pretty significant impact on how easily users will find the materials they want.

There seem to be several ways to browse using the Overdrive integrated site.  You can limit by material type (eBooks, Music, Video, eAudio), collection (General, Children’s, Young Adult), or Subject.

Some sites allow you to select Children’s and further limit by type.  Others do not, which means that you can view all of the children’s digital materials together, but separating out the eAudio from the eBooks is not so easy.

Allowing our users, especially kids, multiple access points to the records (whether they just want to browse eBooks or whether they want to see eBook and eAudio) is the way to go.


Beyond Downloadables:

In addition to offering patrons downloadable eBooks (as well as eAudio, Video, and Music) what else can we offer for children?

Some library systems subscribe to TumbleBooks or BookFlix.

Other libraries direct users out to great online story websites like Speakaboos or the International Children’s Digital Library.

Some libraries are starting to circulate eReaders and iPads for children and parents.

What are some ways your library is introducing kids and parents to the digital reading world?


Some more questions to ponder:

How are you handling the eBook revolution?  What services and collections does your library provide?  Are you a part of the collection development strategy?  If so, how have you gone about building your digital library?  Are there certain materials you think will circulate better in print and others that will circulate better as eBooks?

photos courtesy of Flickr users Mike Licht, Super Cozi, mikemol and Julie Lindsay.


  1. Anna

    Kiera, your post is very practical, which everyone can appreciate; thank you! It really shows the library staff’s thought process (and numerous steps) involved with having e-books available in their library system.

  2. Pingback: A New eBook Challenge: Can Publishers and Libraries Find Compromise? | Write Your Own E-book

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