Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Issues Facing Libraries that Want to Circulate eReader Devices

A few times in recent months librarians have asked me for advice about circulating ereader devices pre-loaded with content.  

I often refer librarians to the successful Nook lending program  at the Burleson, Texas  Public Library, and to Buffy Hamilton’s blog, The Unquiet Librarian, which has excellent accounts of a Kindle lending program that had to be discontinued and the Nook lending program that replaced it.  Code4lib.org also has useful information about the issues involved in Kindle lending, and PC Sweeney’s Blog has arguments for and against checking out ereaders along with a description of the Nook lending program at the Sacramento Public Library.

When an individual consumer is deciding which device to buy for reading ebooks, it often boils down to an individual preference for Apple, Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  When a library is choosing a device to circulate, the issues tend to center around the vendor’s licensing terms and how hard it is for the library staff to manage a large number of devices.  Can you manage multiple devices with one account at the vendor?  Can you load one ebook onto multiple devices at once?  Can you remove the library’s credit card number from the device before loaning it to patrons? From this standpoint, many institutions have settled on the Nook Simple Touch as the most suitable device.

But it turns out that the Nook Simple Touch is inaccessible to persons with low or no vision, since it does not have a text-to-speech capability.  The National Federation for the Blind has brought ADA violation complaints against the Nook lending programs at the Free Library of Philadelphia in May 2012 and now the Sacramento Public Library.

Libraries are trying hard to meet patron expectations with regard to ebooks.  Faced with rapidly changing technology, limited availability, awkward implementations, device and format compatibility issues, and high prices for downloadable ebooks, some of them have navigated the maze of licensing rules and vendor account management procedures to offer a circulating ereader collection as a creative solution.  The accessibility issue and the corresponding threat of lawsuits presents yet another obstacle that may force many libraries into abandoning this method of offering ebooks to their patrons.