Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Three: Ebooks in Libraries

This is the fourth in a series of posts by Eseme. The Intro; Part One, Part Two

Getting Your Self Published Book in a Library Part Three
Ebooks in Libraries

So, the first two parts of this series focused on getting a physical copy of your book into a library. It’s not as easy as I’d like or as you’d like. But it is possible. The library I work at has had me add one self-published book in the adult section, with another on my desk. I have also added a couple of children’s books and a few CDs from local bands.

But the best way to get a physical copy of your book into a library is to buy one and give it away. We’ve got ebooks though – they cost less, and libraries are lending them.

Yes. Libraries have ebooks. Many people still don’t know this, but we do. Heck, it recently made the New York Times (when Harper Collins announced it would only allow libraries to lend out an ebook twenty-six times before the library has to buy a new copy). But people still may not know that their local library (even ones in small towns) have ebooks.

At public libraries, this works one of two ways: the library owns ereaders and lets patrons borrow the ereader, or the library lends out ebooks to people who have ereaders (or a home computer) using special software.

So, visit your library, or their website. Find out if they have Kindles or Sony Readers or Nooks that they lend out. Each ereader is loaded with a selection of ebooks. Most of those are either free out of print books or current bestsellers (every one I have seen has had The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on it). Most people who check these out from libraries want to try out an ereader before buying one. Or they want to read a bestseller without waiting in a longer line for a print copy (though sometimes the ereader lines are longer!).

Could the library buy a copy of your ebook and put it on one of their readers? If you made the EPUB file or a MOBI file, can you donate one to the library which they can load on one of their readers? I believe that Kindles can read the latter, but if a Kindle owner wants to jump in and confirm, that would be great.

The answer to those questions is that I’m not sure. I have yet to work at a library that owns an ereader. The libraries I have worked at have not had the budget. So I’m not sure if a library would buy a local author’s ebook from Amazon for a Kindle, or if they would let you load a file onto their Nook. This is another thing that varies library to library. Please, don’t be upset if a library says no to a free copy of your EPUB file. The library paid for that Nook, and I can see a tech manager being concerned about a virus getting onto their device (to address that, I’d suggest finding a way for the library to get it for free from a trusted vendor, like issuing a coupon that makes the book free and only giving the code to the library and limiting the timeframe it could be used). Also, the staff may want to see reviews or a sample, to get some idea of the book’s quality. Finally, all their ereaders might be checked out the day you arrive, so be aware that
even if they say yes, this could take time.

Honestly, I think it is worth talking to your library about if you can. Ereaders can hold lots of books, why not one more? Now, it is harder for a library to add an ebook to an ereader than it is for most owners. Some libraries try to keep their ereaders locked down so that books cannot be added or deleted, while others erase the contents and reload the books when the device is returned. Also, ebooks are just like paper books in that they have to be cataloged. Most libraries make extra-scant records for ebooks (as little information in them as necessary) for ebooks because they can be easily deleted off the device if the book is no longer a popular title. But this will still take staff time. Again, libraries do things slowly.

And libraries do like local authors. The next post will go into detail as to why. I’d say that if your book gets on an ereader at a local library, it is likely to stay there along with Huckleberry Finn and Sherlock Holmes after bestsellers fade.

What if your local library, like the one I work at, doesn’t lend out ereaders? They may still loan out ebooks, typically through a company that makes special software. The biggest company doing this is called OverDrive, but there are others. Check your library’s website. If there is a link about ebooks, check it out. Or give them a call. If they don’t loan ebooks at all, they probably keep track of the reference questions they get over the phone. People calling about ebooks can give them the idea that there is interest in ebooks.

If your library has OverDrive or another system, how does that work? I can talk best about OverDrive, as it is the company that the library I work for uses. Overdrive contracts with publishers to make ebooks available (both text and audiobooks). The publishers provide the files, and OverDrive makes software that adds DRM (digital rights management). Yes, everyone hates DRM. In this case, it does make sense. What this DRM does is it lets you download the file, and then either read it on your ereader or listen to it on an iPod or MP3 player for a set period of time (usually one or two weeks). After the time is up, the file becomes gibberish, and you can’t open it, you just delete it off your device (it has been “checked in” to the library and now someone else can download it).

I won’t go into the specifics of how to use the OverDrive, although I have done so before and can add that into the comments if someone asks. What I can say is that for text ebooks it works on everything from a desktop computer to a smartphone to an iPad to a Nook. The biggest downside is that it does not work with a Kindle, because Amazon refuses to support the EPUB file format that every other device can read.

How to get your book on OverDrive? I don’t know for sure. I do know that publishers can contact them, but they are probably used to dealing with Big Publishing companies who contract for hundreds or thousands of books at a time. So just contacting them on your own may or may not be effective.

However, I would imagine that a company like Smashwords, with thousands of authors, could better negotiate with OverDrive. In fact, I would suggest contacting Smashwords about that if you are an author or a reader.

Your book still has the problem of ordering: libraries choose the ebooks that they get from OverDrive by ordering from a catalog (a digital one, but still). They will be looking for titles that they recognize. Also, my library and all the others in Maine are part of a consortium – the books are ordered by the state library and we all use the collection. So my library doesn’t choose titles (although there is a form to suggest titles). However, if Smashwords can get your ebook into OverDrive, you can contact you library and let them know. Let them know the pricing too – your book probably costs less, and unlike Harper Collins, you are probably not trying to make a library only lend your book out twenty-six times. Examples of reviews are also helpful, if you have them from review sites or book blogs.

It’s an exciting world out there, and I think that indie ebooks in libraries really work. It just may take time to get Smashwords and OverDrive talking, and to get librarian buy-in. The other thing that OverDrive does is give us statistics. We can see which titles go out the most, just like we can in our database systems for physical items. If a title circulates well as an ebook, that’s a sign to a library that doesn’t own the book that maybe they should order it. Again, ebooks can act as a gateway, and not just to publishers.

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