Licensing Ebooks in Public Libraries: It Costs How Much for How Long?

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After years of the “Pretend It's Print” license predominating, with one user at a time having access that was supposedly perpetual, librarians are now faced with many options. Some smaller and medium-sized publishers often still use the once-established model, but larger publishers have mostly moved into metered licensing. Terms for the same title in ebook and audiobook can vary from as low as 5 circulations per license to 100. Some licenses are based on a period of time, making it complicated to assess their value. Some publishers offer multiple user models, including simultaneous access by many at once. Pay-per-use offers instant access by many users but can be a budget buster. Meanwhile, prices have often been on the rise. How can libraries use their funding to best advantage? Join our panel of experienced selectors from different-sized libraries for an informed discussion of how to get the most bang per book.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this class, students will be able to:

Explain the varying licensing models in ebook purchasing
Describe current access trends in ebook publishing
List three tips for negotiating with and purchasing from ebook vendors


Carmi Parker is the ILS Administrator for Whatcom County Library System and Executive Advisory Committee member for the Washington Digital Library Consortium, serving 850,000 residents of Washington State, and a member of the ReadersFirst Working Group. She is honored to be named a 2021 Mover & Shaker by Library Journal.

Cathy Mason is the Digital Buying Lead at the Columbus Metropolitan Library. Cathy is also the administrator of the Digital Downloads Collaboration, an 18-library system group in central and west central Ohio formed with the goal of sharing resources in order to provide ebooks, digital audiobooks and digital magazines to their combined customer base.

Lisa Sallee is the Assistant Director at Ocean State Libraries, Rhode Island. Ocean State Libraries serves over 50 library systems in Rhode Island, providing a state-wide catalog and technical support, among other services, to member libraries. Lisa manages the eZone site—swim lanes or digital displays, methods for serving up content for their Spanish speaking patrons, methods for dealing with holds ratios and expensive popular content while still adding new content to the site and staying within budget.

Michael Blackwell, Director Of St. Mary’s County Library (Maryland), has served as Chair of the ALA CORE Ebooks Interest Group and a member of the ALA Joint Digital Content Working Group. He serves as the Project Manager for the ReadersFirst Working Group, advocating for a better library digital content experience, and has frequently published and presented on ebooks in libraries.

State library and/or archives agency; Network/consortia; Public library
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