Thursday, January 9, 2003

Northern Ohio e-book initiative called extensive


Libraries offer many electronic titles

By Paul Singer
The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - A consortium of northeast Ohio libraries is starting what experts say could be the most ambitious service in the nation allowing people to "borrow" electronic versions of popular books over the Internet.

Libraries across the nation are experimenting with various approaches to lending e-books, but Cleveland's program will offer more types of titles and distribute them to more people.

"I'm not aware of any other library in the country that is doing this to this degree," said Lynda Murray, director of government relations for the Ohio Library Council.

With the e-book concept still in its formative stage, libraries are seen as the next market where e-books can be tested for consumers, said Neil DeYoung, a spokesman for the publishing division of Scholastic Inc. Library borrowing will allow readers to experiment with e-books instead of buying them from a publisher or an online bookstore, he said.

"You can try it out and play with it and then give it back, and we can test the viability of the model," Mr. DeYoung said.

Most libraries have added digital content to collections, and some have begun lending programs that allow patrons to "check out" electronic books. Some libraries have purchased e-book readers - akin to small laptop computers - with books already loaded that patrons can check out and return.

Most libraries have limited e-book lending to reference and academic titles. But the Cleveland project - a $50,000 joint effort of the Cleveland Public Library and 30 other northern Ohio libraries that are members of the Clevenet consortium - will include a host of popular book titles, such as Michael Crichton's Prey, the new top-seller from publisher HarperCollins.

While other library exchange programs have been limited to reading e-books on a desktop computer or hand-held device, the Cleveland system will allow anyone with a library card to download text from libraries' Web sites.

In some cases, patrons can transfer the books later from one format to another, such as from a home computer to a hand-held computer.

Like a paper book, once an e-book is checked out by a patron, the library's copy locks, and no other visitor can borrow it. Unlike a paper book, the e-book automatically expires in the borrower's computer at the end of the lending period, and unlocks in the library's collection.

Steven Potash, CEO of OverDrive, the company that will manage access to Clevenet's e-book database, said the collection will be available in March with about 1,000 titles. The libraries can add titles as they would with paper books, through purchase agreements with the publishers, he said.

The e-book lending system uses a series of secure codes to ensure the book is available to only one reader at a time for a limited time, Mr. Potash said.

Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House Inc., said security of copyrighted information is publishers' biggest concern before licensing e-books.

"We simply do not participate if the security cannot be assured," Mr. Applebaum said.

Random House has published about 1,000 electronic titles.

"We are optimistic that it is a format that will continue to grow in interest and popularity," he said.

Ohio allows residents to get a library card at any facility in the state, so they will be able to borrow e-books from Clevenet libraries no matter where they live, said Sari Feldman, deputy director of the Cleveland Public Library.

"We've been wanting to do this for a long time," she said.

Bob Carterette Jr., head of automation services for the Cleveland library, said the system should save the library money in the long run because e-books cost nothing to store or maintain and do not require contact with staff members.

"It becomes a patron self-service library," he said.




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