Is it Really Ours?: Ownership and digital content

Ownership in the digital age is fleeting. Libraries are in quite a conundrum when it comes to digital content. We want to be able to provide access to digital content like downloadable ebooks and audiobooks, but do not have the infrastructure to do so on our own. So libraries are at the mercy of vendors to provide this content. We purchase content that is reliant on continued contracts with these vendors. If something happens to the company or we are not happy with their content delivery, the content that was purchased is non-transferable and we are just out of luck. In reality, the library doesn’t really own the electronic content but merely the rights to access it so long as the company is in business.

In years past, when a library purchased a book, ownership was guaranteed. But now, that is not the case at all. When a library purchases rights to electronic content in the form of ebooks and audiobooks, that ownership is at the mercy of the vendor. If the company goes under or is bought out, the libraries are forced to deal with the consequences. In a perfect world, libraries would be able to purchase online content, host it on their own servers and provide it to patrons directly. This would give libraries control over the situation.  However, this is not the case. Libraries lack the means to do this, so we have to rely on vendors to manage our digital collections.

I am not quite sure what the future holds for the relationship among libraries, vendors and publishers regarding eBooks. Part of me can’t stand the fact that we are purchasing rights to content that may be taken away at any time. We have some publishers who are terminating contracts with vendors (see TheDigitalShift’s Penguin Group Terminating It’s Contract with Overdrive ).

Many libraries are biting the bullet and signing contracts with Overdrive merely because they have the largest catalog of material for their patrons. From my own experience, my library has previously offered downloads with  OneClickDigital, which had taken over Ingram Media. We were faced with a service that was unpredictable. We had some troubleshooting issues, it worked for some and not others. Many factors went into the decision to purchase alternative titles through another vendor in order to provide the convenience of audiobook downloads to our patrons. In that instance, we were faced with the issue of having a catalog of titles that no one could really use. I am hoping OneClickDigital resolves its software issues and can lure libraries back to its service.

About Theresa

I am a librarian in Reference Services at the East Baton Rouge Parish Library in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I have always been passionate about history, education and the value of books in all of their forms. I also love how quickly we can access information through the immediacy of the web, especially social networks like Facebook and Twitter. I look forward to growing in my chosen profession.
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