Ebooks: A look back & a look forward

During the last couple of months, several of our collection purchasing staff here at the Adams County Library System have shared how ordering what they order has changed over the last decade. Today, I get to tell you all about the world of Ebooks & E-audiobooks. These looks into our ordering processes and experiences will continue sporadically throughout the rest of the year in our weekly columns. 

Ebooks and E-audiobooks are easy to talk about how they have changed in the last decade of ordering at the Adams County Library since we just started ordering Ebooks for our collection through CloudLibrary in June 2012. That first month, we were very excited to circulate 280 Ebooks on CloudLibrary. While E-lending platforms have been around since about the year 2000, technology always takes years to catch up to public libraries it seems. This is especially true when dealing with the rules and obligations public libraries must follow in order to offer copyrighted materials such as books, magazines, music, and the like. Adams County Library took a risk by working with Cloudlibrary in 2012 when Cloudlibrary was really just a baby of a company since it started the year before in 2011. For the longest time (meaning years) the Adams County Library System was the only library in the state of Pennsylvania that used CloudLibrary as their distribution system for Ebooks and later E-audiobooks. Why did we choose CloudLibrary at that time? One reason was their commitment to making a great product for public libraries, which has a very different business and lending model than academic or specialty libraries, which had already been using digital materials for almost a decade at that point. The other big reason was, of course, cost! CloudLibrary continues to be a leader in making Ebook and Eaudio lending affordable for smaller public library systems. 

So how has ordering for these materials changed over the 10 years since the Adams County Library has had Ebooks? Well, we added Eaudiobooks a few years later through a separate platform, deciding in 2018 to put all of our Ebook and Eaudio content under the same CloudLibrary interface, a move which proved immediately popular by jumping usage of Eaudiobooks significantly that first year of a combined interface. The other thing that has drastically changed in these 10 years is the amount of budgeted collection resources we have put into ordering materials for these collections.

Did you know that some of the Ebooks and E-audiobooks are more than double to triple the cost of their physical counterparts? Another misconception is that they are readily downloadable whenever you want to check a title out. Unfortunately, that is not true either, as we still must follow copyright rules as we do with a physical book. Only one patron can have an Ebook or Eaudio checked out at one time. While those waiting must go on a waitlist just like the physical materials inside the library. We always watch wait lists to make sure they don’t get too out of hand, but our ratio to order another copy of an Ebook or E-audiobook is more than double the ratio we use for physical materials due to the cost.

Usage of CloudLibrary has risen steadily since it debuted in Adams County in 2012. To compare, in June 2022, we checked out 6,610 Ebooks and E-audiobooks in CloudLibrary. It is true that usage skyrocketed during the Covid pandemic, as most libraries saw, but we thought for sure it would plateau if not go back down again once we reopened. Adams County Library has always bucked the national trend of Elibrary usage having a great effect on physical library material usage. While we have seen physical library usage go down as Ebooks and Eaudiobooks started to become more popular, it has never been at the same percentage that the Ebook usage was growing, which is great to see. Even after we returned from Covid and finally, in early 2022, were basically back to all services we had before Covid, we have seen our physical circulation come back to nearly 100% pre-Covid levels while our usage of CloudLibrary continues to soar! In the four months completed so far this year of 2023, 3 of the 4 months have reached over 7,000 checkouts in CloudLibrary. In 2023, all 4 months have been record-setting months, with January being 500+ checkouts more, February being 400+ checkouts more, March being an incredible 1000+ checkouts more, and April being 600+ checkouts more than the same month in 2022, which were also records.

So, needless to say, Ebook and E-audiobook lending is going nowhere for the foreseeable future in Adams County. There is one final reason we have used CloudLibrary for so long, and usage has more than doubled since 2018, and that was the invention of CloudLink. A game-changer in what we could offer of patrons with our smaller collection. Remember when I mentioned we were the only libraries listed in CloudLibrary in Pennsylvania? Well, that has turned for the better as well. We are now one of 26 libraries and library systems to take part in CloudLibrary in PA. CloudLink allows us to link our catalog of Ebooks and E-audiobooks with the other 25 libraries and library systems in Pennsylvania. As long as a local patron doesn’t have the local copy checked out, you can check out a book from any of the 25 libraries. You won’t even know you’re doing it, as there is no indicator on the CloudLibrary interface showing you are checking out someone else’s book. If the book is checked out locally, you simply just won’t see the option of the book at all on your screen. It is $1000 a year to hook up with CloudLink, and as we always say… “It is easily the best $1000 we spend a year on anything at the Adams County Library.” With access to over $2 million dollars worth of Ebooks and Eaudios, there certainly is something for everyone through CloudLibrary!

Looking into the future, we will continue to purchase materials for both Ebooks and Eaudios through CloudLibrary. In the last several years, and continuing into the future, we have focused on buying more of the popular authors and book series that are commonly requested in physical copies inside the library through CloudLibrary. It is our promise we will continue to use our collection resources as wisely as possible while at the same time continuing to purchase Ebooks and E-audiobooks, you will definitely want to check out!

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Donald Marritz
Donald Marritz
9 months ago

We are so fortunate to have our public library, with its terrific collection of e-materials and physical books.

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