ebooks from PenguinRandomHouse…she’s a bit bumpy mate…

My family and I went to see the NZ film ‘Hunt for the wilderpeople‘ last night. We all enjoyed it immensely and as I drove home I felt a warm glow inside,not just from the feel good movie, but also from knowing that we have all of Barry Crump’s novels in our school Library and the novel Wild pork and watercress is the book the movie is based on.

My inner digital librarian never switches off and so I did immediately start to wonder about the availability of Wild pork and watercress in ebook form, thinking it would appeal to some of our reluctant reading boys in Middle School, especially as many of them will have seen the movie in the holidays. I’ve had success with Crump’s print novels for this cohort previously.

Investigating the availability and pricing of this ebook prompted me to write another post on the pricing and lending model of ebooks in school libraries in general, this time highlighting the offering from PenguinRandomHouse (Australia/NZ/UK). It’s a little different than the other 24-month lending models we have become used to (Allen & Unwin, Pan Macmillan, Faber & Faber etc).

December 2015 saw the announcement that titles from the UK/Australia/NZ imprints of Penguin/RandomHouse would finally be available to purchase in digital format. This is something I had been waiting for as a huge range of content in our physical collection are titles from these publishers and children want to read the books in both formats – print and digital. Whenever I have shown children how to access our ebook collection the most common question regarding content has always been “Do you have Diary of a wimpy kid in ebook?” so I was very excited for the opportunity to add this series and other ‘most-wanted’ content to our digital offering.

Some content from these publishers had previously been available on a ‘one copy/one user model’ for some time and we had purchased many of these (at really decent prices – often under NZ$10), but the range of titles hadn’t been added to since 2011, meaning that we couldn’t provide recent titles from popular authors like Jacqueline Wilson and several series were incomplete. Many digital titles that Penguin and RandomHouse were offering through iBooks and the Kindle and Kobo stores were absent from the offering to local libraries leading to lots of frustration.

We purchase our ebooks through OverDrive but the full range of PRH digital titles was also made available to Libraries buying through other digital platforms e.g. Wheeler’s ePlatform and Bolinda BorrowBox. Having this huge selection of titles available really made me feel like a kid in a candy store but with only pennies to spend! Budget wise the timing was less than ideal – by December of any school year we generally only have a little bit of our digital budget left and that is used to buy popular new releases over the holiday period.

My school generously gave the Library extra money to buy a big selection of the Penguin and RandomHouse titles and this needed to be spent by the year-end. I was faced with a dilemma… eBooks were going to be available on a two-year lease model (i.e. not owned but effectively leased for 2 years) so anything we bought in December 2015 would need to be renewed again in December 2017 (or after 36 checkouts if they proved extremely popular). Did I really want a few hundred titles expiring at exactly he same time at another year end? We’ve always believed that even if any lease/ownership model is less than perfect, then if student demand for the titles is high enough we’ll renew popular titles as they expire (and not renew those with zero or low checkout levels). If titles expire in December it is possible to have them remain in the collection but not renew them immediately – the titles will still show in our website, but with 0 copies available. If a student places a hold on an expired copy, we can purchase it on a demand driven basis, but leave the bulk of expired titles to be re-evaluated in the new year with a new budget.

Now that the initial euphoria has passed and our students have been able to read favourite authors like Rick Riordan, Roald Dahl, Cathy Cassidy, Jacqueline Wilson and Marie Lu, in both print and digital formats, I’m looking quite critically at exactly what is being offered to us and just how expensive that offering is. Some titles haven’t been as popular in ebook as they are in print – this doesn’t usually matter when you have purchased them and will own them in perpetuity, but somehow that two-year lease expiry date brings the number of checkouts vs price we’ve paid into stark relief.

In my opinion, there are three issues with the PRH Commonwealth offering.

  1. There is a 90-day embargo between the book publication date and it being available for purchase by Libraries (and pre-orders are not available so we can’t see what is coming up in the future);
  2. The ownership period is for 24 months or 36 checkouts (whichever is reached first);
  3. In my opinion, the pricing is high compared to other publisher offerings, especially considering that the ownership period is short (even for titles that were published some time ago and are very much backlist titles).

Any one of those three terms might be acceptable on its own – but I’m surprised that PRH believe that Libraries are going to think it is OK to be charged more than the hardcover price for a book, when it’s already been available for 90 days AND then we can only have it in our collection for 24 months?  More importantly – in a school situation very few ebook titles are constantly checked out – we aren’t serving the same size population as a public library and we don’t get the maximum use of the titles within 24 months that might justify the pricing.

Here are some examples of titles on offer and their Library pricing – remember that a retail customer purchasing from Amazon or iBooks will own the ebook in perpetuity – but the Library as purchaser will only be able to lend it for two years or 36 checkouts:

magnuschase

Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. Released 6 October 2015, available for purchase by Libraries 6 January 2016.

Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$12.99

Price in iBooks store: NZ$12.99

Price to Libraries: NZ$38.00-$51.00

Paperback RRP: NZ$26.00

Hardback RRP: $48.50

Verdict: We haven’t been inundated with holds on this title which has meant the decision about adding extra copies at this high price hasn’t come up. If I had been able to buy the ebook at the same time I was promoting the physical book I am sure more students would have read the book and having titles available in as many formats as possible to meet reader preferences tends to build excitement and demand around a title.

5th wave.jpg

The 5th wave by Rick Yancey (2013). Movie adaptation released 2015.

Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$4.74

Price in iBooks store: NZ$4.99

Price to Libraries: NZ$20-27.00

Paperback RRP: NZ$24.00

Hardback RRP: $40.50

Verdict: I’ve had numerous holds on this in both paper and ebook so we’ve purchased two extra ebook copies. The backlist titles from Penguin or RandomHouse UK seem to reduce in price over time as they age whereas the NZ and Australian list titles appear to remain high.

martian

The Martian by Andy Weir. Published 2014; movie adaptation released October 2015.

Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$9.01

Price in iBooks store: NZ$11.99

Price to Libraries: NZ$21.00-28.00

Paperback Film tie-in version RRP: NZ$18.99

Hardback RRP: NA

Verdict: We had a high level of holds on this in both paper and ebook so I’ve bought an extra ebook copy – because it’s an older release the price is more acceptable than that of the newer releases (but still higher than I’d like when purchasing just to fulfill current demand).

littlestars

Little stars by Jacqueline Wilson. Released 8 October 2015, available for purchase by Libraries 8 January 2016.

Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$14.24

Price in iBooks store: NZ$15.99

Price to Libraries: NZ$35.00-$46.00

Paperback RRP: NZ$19.99

Hardback RRP: $48.50

Verdict: It is wonderful being able to buy all Jacqueline Wilson titles. We had all of the backlist titles up to Hetty Feather and students were very keen to have this in both digital and print. So far, I’ve only needed one copy in ebook – Jacqueline Wilson titles seem to be consistently popular. Once again, if the ebook had been available at the same time the book was released when there was more demand then we would have had more readers. I’d have to have a lot of holds placed before buying another copy at $35 for a 24-month term.

esther

I am not Esther by Fleur Beale. Published 1998.

Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$7.59

Price in iBooks store: NZ$4.59

Price to Libraries: NZ$22.00-25.50

Paperback  RRP: NZ$19.99

Hardback RRP: NA

Verdict: Any school that uses this is a class/novel set may have wished to replace aging worn paper copies (that are only used for a few weeks a year) with a digital copy – however with this price for a book published nearly 20 years ago and the two year lease model – it’s most likely not an option for most schools. The pricing of RandomHouse NZ and RandomHouse Australia and Penguin Australia backlist titles are noticeably higher than those from RHCP (UK) which seem to reduce over time. Ironically it is the NZ titles which many NZ schools might wish to purchase for use as class sets. Who is going to purchase a class/year level set that may only be used for a few weeks, twice in two years?

oldschool

Old school (Diary of a wimpy kid; 10) released 3 November 2015, available for Libraries to purchase 3 February 2016.

Price in Amazon.com.au NZ$9.99

Price in iBooks store: NZ$9.99

Price to Libraries: NZ$22.00-28.00

Paperback  RRP: NZ$19.99

Hardback RRP: 23.00

Verdict: One of our students’ favourite book series and one where we have multiple print copies on our shelves. Normally with a high level of ebook ‘holds’ we would also buy multiple ebook copies – but not at $22 for two years for a series of 10 books. I’d happily add extra copies at this price if they were available via the one copy/one user model because this is one series where demand is always high. I’ve limited the latest ebook to two ebook copies (my gauge for adding an extra ebook copy is the number of holds reaching 5). We have one copy of each of the other ebook titles as the level of holds hasn’t reached higher than 3 on most of them. Compare this to the popular Treehouse series from Andy Griffiths and Published by Pan Macmillan – we have multiple paper copies AND multiple ebook copies. The Treehouse ebook is priced at under NZ$10 for two years – this means it’s easy to justify extra copies to fulfill holds and current demand. The Pan Macmillan titles are also available on the day the physical book is released – not in 3 months time.

In summary…

The benefits of using eBooks in schools and school libraries balance precariously against the price/ownership models on offer:

  • If the ownership model is too short – then the option of using digital copies, for the few weeks a year when a title is used as a class set, is not viable. We want to offer readers a choice of formats and will generally buy books in both digital and print – unfortunately, a 24 month lease period tends to make one hesitate before purchasing multiple copies.
  • If the price is too high – then extra copies can’t be added to meet demand, meaning that students eager to read a title, can’t unless they are prepared to wait for either the multiple print or single digital copies (and by the time their hold comes around then they may have lost interest). If the price is low with a two-year model then the purchase of extra copies is justified – fulfill demand now and have all those extra copies ‘disappear’ at the end of the lease period.
  • When there is a 90-day embargo on the date of purchase – that means the book isn’t available  when student interest is at it’s highest – and it’s less likely that you will want to add extra copies when interest has waned. Ironically, if the 90-day embargo was not in place, then when interest is high around the publication of a much-loved author or much-wanted sequel, then libraries would probably buy more copies.
  • While I appreciate that most publishers are using these sorts of purchasing restrictions to discourage libraries from buying electronic copies that never need replacing – they need to be mindful of the fact that very few eBooks are going to be constantly checked out – Librarians have to work much harder to make digital content discoverable and desirable – especially as the titles age and it’s more likely that a copy will never reach the 36 checkout threshold.

The ‘problems’ outlined above, highlight how a more flexible approach is needed for the sale of eBooks to school libraries by ALL publishers – these issues aren’t specific to PRH as many publishers, especially those using any form of metered or time-based lease, have a less than perfect model on offer too.

Why can’t publishers offer their titles in a variety of ownership models that a school can choose to suit their particular size and circumstance?

Here’s an example of how it might work in my ideal world…

One copy/one user: Higher price for a copy that a library will have in their digital collection forever – a lower price for ‘less text’ early readers through to higher priced full adult novels and non-fiction). I accept that there is room for a small premium on the print price given that the digital copy will never wear out or need physically replacing.

Short-term lease copies to use as part of class assigned reading or for a reading group or literature circle: Small amount per copy for 4 weeks/8 weeks/12 weeks.

Shorter term leases for titles that are newly released and currently popular (we might need extra copies to fulfill holds NOW, but we won’t need 10 copies in three years time): Significantly lower prices for 12-24-36 month terms.

A checkout metered model with no time constraints: HarperCollins (26 checkout limit) allows preorders of new releases that become available in our collection as soon as they are released. The price is higher on release (but not usually ever over $25), dropping to a lower price within a reasonable period of time. Popular titles that quickly reach 26 checkouts expire but we don’t mind replacing them – they have been read! Compare this to the expiring 24-month term books with only a handful of checkouts – we feel cheated and I feel that I have let my school down as we haven’t got the use out of the copies for the price paid. If the HarperCollins metered titles are only checked out a handful of times or even never checked out at all…we still have them in our collection and we aren’t being asked to repurchase them.

So back to the beginning…am I able to purchase Wild pork and watercress for my school library digital collection?

Possibly…

wildporkwatercress

Image source: Wheelers.co.nz

Wild pork and watercress by Barry Crump originally published 1986, ebook release 29 February 2016, [possibly] available for purchase by libraries 29 May 2016.

Price in Amazon.com.au : Not currently available for purchase

Price in iBooks store: NZ$11.99

Price to Libraries: NZ$50-60

Paperback RRP: NZ$38.00 (new edition published 4 March 2016)

Hardback RRP: Not available

I’ve sent a query to OverDrive about the availability of this title because it’s currently not showing in Marketplace. If it is available I suspect we’ll be subject to the 90-day embargo – meaning I won’t be able to purchase this until May 29 2016. (There is the possibility that this title may not be available in OverDrive at all – unfortunately, the PRH (NZ/Aust/UK) titles do not show up as pre-orders).

But not being able to purchase this book today, it means that I’m not going to be able to capitalise on the current high interest in this title with any readers motivated by their enjoyment of the film.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

All pricing information taken Sunday 24 April 2016 – prices may change after this blog post has been published. The range of prices to Libraries reflects the pricing structure of the various aggregators. Prices tend to be lower when the Lending platform charges a significant annual hosting fee and a higher ebook price from lending platforms when there is no  hosting fee or a very low hosting fee.
In the context of this article, I am not commenting on the titles published by the USA offices of PenguinRandomHouse and their associated imprints – those titles are available through OverDrive on a one-copy/one-user basis with a different pricing model.

Article edited Monday 25th April 2016 9:30 pm.

 

 

Why can’t I buy [insert title here] as an ebook?

want it gifGIF Source: http://janelleabean.tumblr.com/post/43475743778 via Giphy.com

This is the latest article in the series I am writing about the frustrations around offering digital content in school libraries. I want to explain a bit about geographic rights and why we can’t always buy the titles our students want or need in digital format.

“Geographic restrictions made sense in the old publishing paradigm where print publishing was the only game in town. An author writes a book and with the creation of a book arises a number of rights known as intellectual property rights. Intellectual property is just a little bundle of rights that the author can sell individually or in a group. Think of the rights as a bouquet of flowers. An author could give one rose to the publisher in exchange for money or she can give a dozen or the entire garden”. 

Source: http://dearauthor.com/ebooks/how-do-we-solve-a-problem-like-geographic-restrictions/

OK -so why can’t I buy that ebook here and now?

Firstly, the biggest barrier is the publisher. Does that publisher of the title you want sell or lease ebooks to libraries at all? or just in some parts of the world? Do they sell them to the ebook platform provider your school uses?

example 1 : Scholastic – sells to public libraries all over the world but NOT to school libraries ANYWHERE (unless you are signing up to their school specific products like Book Flix etc). You cannot buy single titles like the Hunger games in ebook if you are a school library.

Some NZ school libraries were able to buy Scholastic titles in error back in 2014 and the titles weren’t pulled from their collections – I don’t think that’s fair to the rest of us.

example 2 : Hachette / Hodder / Little Brown / Orbit / Orion (all ultimately owned by Hachette Livre – one of the biggest publishers in the world) – These imprints sell ebooks to school libraries in the USA, but local subsidiaries and imprints in our region (Hachette NZ/Australia) do not sell them to school OR public libraries.

Once you have more publishers available via ebook aggregators like OverDrive, then those who are are unavailable become as desirable as the rocket in the witch’s garden in Rapunzel…could I lend my first-born child in exchange for Daughter of smoke and bone and many other Hachette titles and series in ebook format?

Sometimes ebook providers have unique agreements with publishers that give them an advantage (usually temporary) over their competitors:

Example : Wheeler’s ePlatform sells titles from Oxford University Press, but OverDrive does not….

And OverDrive sells ebooks from Disney Hyperion, but Wheeler’s does not….

The second barrier is that even if the publisher does sell ebooks to libraries in your region you can’t always buy all of their titles.

example : I can buy Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell in ebook from Pan Macmillan, but I can’t buy Eleanor & Park because it’s published by St Martin’s Press (A subsidiary of Macmillan USA). For some quirky reason only NZ/Australian public libraries can buy the US subsidiary publications (so no St Martins; Roaring Brook; Farrar, Strauss & Giroux; Square Fish or Henry Holt books for us…yet..)

yes!

and no….

eleanor

Lastly why do books published by the same company have different lending/ownership models?

Not all publishers and subsidiaries operate on the same basis as the bigger US company. The recent changes to the Penguin and Random House companies demonstrate this:

Penguin/RandomHouse US titles are available on the one copy/one user model…. but Penguin UK/Australia and RandomHouse NZ/Australia/UK titles are available on the 36 checkouts or 52 months model. And just to muddy the water more, DK titles with a UK imprint are only available for 12 months…

So some Penguin/RandomHouse titles are one copy/one user (i.e. one time purchase in collection in perpetuity)

and some are leased for 2 years (or 36 checkouts)

And so if we can buy all the Penguin & Random House titles why couldn’t I buy Diary of a wimpy kid : Old School by Jeff Kinney until this week (3 February 2016) when it was published on 3 November 2015? That’s because there is a 90 day embargo on the sale of the ebook to libraries, it doesn’t even appear as available for purchase until the embargo is lifted.

oldschool

The embargo on Disney titles is slightly longer at 4 months, but at least you can preorder them….The force awakens junior novel became available in the Kindle store on 16 February 2016 – but although I can purchase it now and it will show in our Digital Library, it’s not available for download by students until 18 June 2016.

force

And why are some books from an author/publisher you can usually buy through your ebook provider suddenly only available in one platform but not another?

This sometimes happens when the rights information is loaded incorrectly in the purchasing platform you use. It’s annoying because trying to explain the situation (even when providing evidence) to your provider takes time and work.

9781743340080

example : Pan Macmillan titles are available in both OverDrive and Wheeler’s ePlatform but the title Andypedia by Andy Griffiths is only available through Wheeler’s. I’ve requested this via OverDrive but getting changes made when a mistake has been made is a lengthy process – in the meantime I have sent my student to the Auckland Libraries digital Library – something which helps the student in the short term but undermines the credibility of our own digital collection…

Trying to find out which publisher has the rights to sell an ebook in our part of the world…

I usually check to see if a book is available as an ebook in either the amazon.com.au or iBook store. If it isn’t there at all – it generally means that no one holds the rights to the ebook in this part of the world or if they do, then they haven’t chosen to make it available for sale at present.

hatchet

A good example of this is Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. It’s available as an ebook through Simon & Schuster if you are in the USA but not available to a NZ or Australian purchaser (library or individual).

Once you know who holds the rights to the ebook title then you can lobby your ebook provider for access.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 1.32.28 PM

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 1.33.05 PM

Unfortunately once I can see that a title is available in the amazon.com.au store but discover that it’s published by either the Hachette Book Group AU or Scholastic, then I know that is the end of my quest at least for now. All I can do is keep bombarding my digital content provider with requests to keep working hard to negotiate and gain access to these publishers. I’m occasionally driven to vent via social media. Some support from other school librarians would help here. If you see a tweet asking why @scholastic or @HachetteAus won’t sell ebooks to school libraries…please retweet and add your voice! I know I am a thorn in the side of my ebook provider by being so vocal and demanding but you won’t get anything if you don’t ask… (Recently I lobbied to get access to the Penguin USA imprints from Nancy Paulsen and Dial books and this worked – these ebooks are now available for purchase to NZ and Australian Libraries in OverDrive).

…I refuse to settle for only what is on offer, my students deserve the right to read everything they want in whatever format they want.

Now about the differences in the prices you see in the KindleStore and what a library is asked to pay…well that’s a whole other post….

Previous posts:

Part 1 : SCHOOL LIBRARIES, EBOOKS AND PUBLISHERS : RELATIONSHIP STATUS “IT’S COMPLICATED”

Part 2 : DIGITAL COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT – BALANCING THE MIX OF OWNERSHIP/LENDING MODELS

Part 3 : LENDING HARRY POTTER EBOOKS IN LIBRARIES – changes to Pottermore terms and conditions

 

 

 

 

 

Lending Harry Potter ebooks in libraries – you’ll need many galleons, sickles and knuts

“The gold ones are Galleons. Seventeen silver Sickles to a Galleon and twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle, it’s easy enough.”
JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

gringotts

HarryPotter.wikia.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about the 52 checkout/24 month lending model too much lately – it’s the focus of my next blog post on ebooks and school libraries but waking up to a news item in OverDrive this morning has prompted a post about Pottermore ebooks instead:

Basically the news was announcing that Pottermore  isupdating their library lending terms for their eBooks from their current 5 years term to 2 years or 52 checkouts (whichever comes first) for all customers and markets [and that any] Pottermore eBook purchased before this date will remain under the 5 year term until they expire. All new eBook purchases made 15 January 2015 and forward will be under the 2 year/52 checkout model. All Pottermore audiobooks will remain available  5 year lending term”.

Source: OverDrive Marketplace, 15 January 2016

Pottermore titles are currently only available through OverDrive – so this news doesn’t affect school libraries with Wheeler’s eplatform or Bolinda BorrowBox digital collections, however, the trend of publishers offering digital content to Libraries on the 52 checkout/24 month model is worrying to me and affects all libraries with digital collections. I wish publishers would understand that every ebook that is replaced after two years in a school library with a fixed and in many cases small ebook budget possibly results in lesser known and new authors not being selected, purchased and showcased.

hermione

School librarians are passionate about getting kids to experience the magic of reading and to be able to read from the widest range of authors, titles and formats as possible…and something I feel Hermione would approve of.

Here is what I am thinking regarding this pricing/lending model development…

Here’s yet another publisher choosing the 52 checkout/24 month model for digital content. Ironically the prices so far are the same as they were asking under the 5 year model, so I’m assuming this is an opportunity for Pottermore to earn more money from a very captive Library market. Changing the lending or lease period but keeping the price the same is a bit like saying “the price of a loaf of bread hasn’t gone up, but we’ll now only sell you half a loaf for the same amount”. Its not just school libraries affected, this will also impact public libraries with multiple copies in their digital collections – Auckland Libraries have 15 copies of Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone with holds on all copies – showing that the books are still perennially popular in all types of libraries.

The Harry Potter series was eagerly included in the very first order my school placed when we introduced digital content to our school in 2013. We own 2 copies of the earlier ebooks in the series and 1 copy of the others. Leasing at just over NZ$30.00 per copy for a five year term (expiring May 2018) seemed like a very reasonable balance between price and lending model [ironically I had been planning a post about what a great compromise between the one copy/one user model and a time metered model this was!]. If we had purchased these on the 52 checkout/24 month model our first copies would have expired last year.

Let me talk a little about that ‘reasonable balance between price and lending model’:

If we wanted to buy an extra ebook copy of Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone today it would cost my school midway between the retail price of NZ$21.99 for the paperback and NZ$36.99 for the hardback. The ebook version of Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone is currently available in the Amazon.com.au store for AU$9.36 (NZ$9.96), and in an enhanced edition (containing video) in Apple iBooks store at NZ$13.99, and at US$8.64 at the official Pottermore site. There is a considerable mark up on the ebook price for libraries versus retail – which I get, I really do – and I’ve said in an earlier post that the advantage to libraries of digital content being immediately available, not wearing out, being overdue or lost is worthy of a [reasonable] premium on the retail price….but add in the time based lending model of two years I’m feeling like I’ve lost an arm and a leg for the privilege. It’s not the price on its own that worries me, it’s the lending term at that price.

In our Library collection we have several copies of the Harry Potter series titles in hardback in both our Junior and Middle Libraries, the audiobooks on CD, and physical copies of the books in Spanish, German and French. I was considering buying the digital version of the foreign language titles to support our language learners but now that the purchasing model has changed I’ll have to revisit the idea or at least think about it some more and possibly survey more potential readers. The often touted publisher argument for needing to replace physical books as a justification for a time based lending model rubs a bit hard here. Our hardback copies of Harry Potter have lasted really very well. I haven’t had to replace the physical books every two years unless lost or damaged by a student and in those situations the replacement cost is met by the student not the Library.

Our 5 physical copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone have been issued 224 times (14.93 per year for all current copies owned since 2001). Our two ebook copies have been checked out 75 times since purchase in May 2013 but 59 times in the two years between May 2013 and May 2015 (29.5 per year for 2 copies) – hardly 52 checkouts within two years per copy even though this is a title that is more popular in ebook format than physical.

I’m confident the ebooks will still be popular in 2018 and we will repurchase them, as these are titles that I regard as ‘core’ to our fiction collections and it’s essential to have them in as many formats as possible, but I probably won’t repurchase multiple copies under a 52/24 model. It’s been my experience that many kids who start reading a library copy of Harry Potter invariably buy the whole series themselves, supporting my theory that by helping to create and support readers, school libraries are also developing and nurturing future book buyers.

See also this article from Nate Hoffelder in the Digital Reader about changes to the revenues at Pottermore prompting their decision to sell the ebooks outside of the Pottermore website.
Guide to Galleons, sickles and knuts from the Harry Potter Lexicon

Note on Harry Potter Audiobooks: I’m relieved that Pottermore are retaining the five year ownership model for the audiobooks we have purchased (it will be interesting to see if this changes). Downloadable audiobooks are fantastic not only for student enjoyment (who can resist Stephen Fry!) but especially for our kids who are reading at levels below their peers and for those with any type of reading difficulty. The Harry Potter titles in downloadable audio are expensive (NZ$115-130 each) and possibly out of reach for many school libraries (considering that a full set of 7 books is going to cost several hundred dollars). Compare the Library eaudio price to the retail price at Audible.com.au AU$39.95 (NZ41.50), and Pottermore US$24.95…

Merlin’s beard!

Pottermore, iBooks, Amazon.com.au and audible.com.au websites accessed Saturday 16 January for pricing information.

Digital collection development – balancing the mix of ownership/lending models

ebooks.001Our collection currently comprises almost 2/3 one copy/one user titles and 1/3 licensed titles (either metered or expiring after a period of time).

This ratio isn’t what we were planning when we began selecting ebooks and audiobooks for our digital collection, but it has evolved this way over time. Although we would prefer to buy more content on a one copy/one user model a lot of very popular fiction is only available on a licensed basis and to complicate the ratio further, some of the one copy/one user material is ridiculously expensive.

One of the aims of our digital collection is to entice students to read; and therefore the offering must be as appealing as the physical collection otherwise it risks being seen as only a supplementary, fringe or niche collection. In order to meet the objective of enticement, we’ve simply had to ‘bite the bullet’ and buy a considerable amount of licensed content in order to provide the popular material that students will want to borrow.

The bulk of the metered titles (and nearly 1/4 of the whole collection) are titles sold on the 26 metered model (predominantly from HarperCollins US and UK and their imprints, plus  a small number of titles from Disney). I’ve grown to accept and ultimately love this model because although 26 may not seem high (and it’s not high if kids accidentally check ebooks out and then return them without either downloading or reading them…) but it is similar to the number of uses a popular paperback might get. When titles have expired after they’ve been regularly checked out then the decision to repurchase is an easy one. At least if a title isn’t popular and doesn’t go out much it doesn’t expire in your collection until that magic number of 26 is reached! Often the prices are very reasonable and it’s not difficult to feel justified when adding extra copies of titles in high demand.

The 52 checkout/24 month model is one that I initially wasn’t keen on. But now I feel these titles will grow as we can now purchase more content from Pan Macmillan, which has an excellent price point for this lending term. The chart above shows the number of titles (rather than the number of copies we own) so it’s a little misleading because we often will have 2-3 copies of Macmillan titles due to their popularity. Combine the high interest of their titles with a very reasonable price (and one where you do not feel you are being extravagant with the schools money if you purchase extra copies when demand is high) and you can only feel good about the balance here.

However, I do feel that all the publishers offering ebooks on this basis have been a little disingenuous regarding the 52 checkouts. It’s very difficult to consume 52 checkouts within a 24 month period – especially if the favoured lending period by students is 3 weeks. Even if a title is issued as soon as it’s returned, then the highest number of checkouts we might expect with 24 months is just under 35 (104 weeks divided by three). Of course there will be some students who return a book quickly and well before the three week loan period is up – but it is unlikely that any title will be on issue continuously and reach 52 checkouts.  Where we have reached high checkout numbers on some of these titles, we have only been able to achieve this by owning multiple copies (so no single copy is responsible for 52 checkouts within 24 months, no matter how popular). The situation may be quite different in a public library and that’s the reason why I keep suggesting that the terms for school libraries need to be considered differently.

The 36 checkout model portion is made up solely with titles from the Non-US Penguin/Random House family – including Australian, New Zealand and UK content. Whilst it looks like we may have given this model a solid endorsement because we have already purchased a considerable number of titles in a short space of time… I’m very much in ‘two minds’ about it. As time passes and I peruse the additional titles I’d like to add, I find that I am unable to make the leap and push “purchase” due to an almost emotional reaction to the pricing. Perhaps 36 checkouts is a little more realistic than 52 within 24 months, but the price point of many of the titles, which will expire after only two years, seems expensive. The mitigating factor is the popularity and desirability of many of the titles and series. However, some imprints from this publisher (think of those nice fat annotated Penguin classics) lend themselves to the one copy/one user model in a school library context in my opinion.

The 60 month (or 5 years) model that represents a tiny sliver in the chart at less than 1% of the collection – is made up solely of the 7 Harry Potter books in both ebook and audiobook formats. These titles, published by Pottermore, are currently only available through OverDrive, but they are extremely popular with students.

Lastly the 12 month time restriction feels prohibitive and dare I say mean; and before I purchase any title under this model, there is quite a bit of soul searching and calculating to try and predict how popular the titles might be to justify the cost over such a short period. I’m also very conscious of buying 12 month titles towards the end of the year knowing full well that they will expire in exactly 12 months and one can only plan and hope that there will be budget available the following year. Despite there being a vast range of content from Simon & Schuster and DK (Dorling Kindersley) available we’ve only purchased 21 titles so far.

If we had only been able to add one copy/one user content then we would not have a collection that is appealing to readers as the one we have built up over 2 1/2 years, but planning for and dealing with the variety of lending models and price points can be rather complicated and exhausting.

Interestingly, if we were to buy exactly the same titles today under current ownership models  – then many of those that had been available under the one copy/one user model would now only be available on a licensed basis.

Here’s what the breakdown would look like today:

ebooks.002What’s changed?

There are 223 titles that we had previously purchased under the one copy/one user model from Random House Australia, Random House New Zealand and the bulk from Random House Children’s Publishing Ltd (RHCP UK). When  I added these to the recent purchases we’ve made from the newly released Penguin and Random House titles they add up to a sizeable chunk of licensed content at 13% of the collection – all of which would expire after 36 checkouts or 24 months.

There were also 48 titles purchased from Allen & Unwin before they switched from the one copy/one user model to the 52 checkout or 24 months model.

Now that our collection has reached the proportions shown in the earlier chart, I believe it’s time to look at formulating a more rigorous digital collection development policy that caps the amount of metered content. This needs to be done otherwise each year a significant amount of our budget will have to be allocated to replacing content (which feels rather unpalatable if it has not been checked out much – no matter how desirable it is to have it in the collection). Some titles might be purchased with expiration in mind – but only if the price is reasonable at the time of purchase and where you anticipate that the title won’t be needed in the future or at least not as many copies.

Note: I’m still planning on writing detailed posts about each of these lending model and ownership types, which I hope will help others come to understand how they all fit together. For some libraries how the collection is made up may look very different to ours and some libraries may find that shorter ownership periods may suit their collection and community better, depending on their requirements. I do believe that all these lending models need to be incorporated into our collection if we wish to continue to offer a wide range of attractive content that mirrors and supports the physical one.

School Libraries, eBooks and publishers : relationship status “It’s complicated”

I’ve been inspired I feel compelled to share some ideas about recent developments affecting the availability of ebooks for school libraries – it’s come about purely out of frustration. I feel that school librarians do not have a voice or any medium or forum in which to communicate feedback, ideas and frustrations to publishers in any way that might lead to meaningful dialogue and change.

  • Digital content isn’t an passing fad or an ‘add-on’ for my school – we need material in both print and digital to meet student reading format preferences.
  • We are passionate about making reading & listening easier for struggling or dormant readers and our ESOL students. The technological aspect of ebooks can be an attractive enticement for kids who think they don’t like to read and students significantly behind their peers can read discretely at a lower level.
  • We want to be able to offer more titles than we can physically house in a library space with limited shelf and floor space – we see our library as a virtual one and we want to reach the kids and readers who never enter the physical space.
  • Unlike many other schools we are spending a significant part of our library budget on digital content.

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In my opinion, there’s still a huge disconnect between publishers and librarians due to a lack of understanding (about how awesome we are) and meaningful communication with librarians on the front line of ebook lending in schools. I know Library Leaders from various professional and industry bodies meet with publishers, but there is little ongoing connection between working school librarians and publishers. I’d be willing to provide feedback and answer questions about our purchasing and usage habits after a publisher introduces a new way of lending or pricing. The anecdotal information would bring any statistics provided by distributors to life.

I’m worried that publishers assume and believe that all libraries are similar and that school libraries will use digital content in the same way as public libraries and therefore we need to be offered the same terms, conditions and pricing. This doesn’t really take into consideration the unique role of school libraries, the type of community we serve, our school/library size, and more importantly our unique role in promoting literacy and a love of reading with children and young adults.

Can publishers not see that there is a huge difference between a metropolitan public library or a whole US state or county school district and the much smaller individual school libraries in New Zealand, Australia and Asia or anywhere?

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The key determinant with … library e-pricing is the opportunity for the full and permanent ownership of our titles purchased for their collections, which can evolve into a potentially unlimited number of library patrons borrowing that ebook in perpetuity. Print books, which suffer wear and tear from repeated lending, need to be replaced through repurchase. Ebooks do not. Source: PRH Press Release quoted in the Library Journal Dec 3 2015.

Comments like this have convinced me that publishers truly believe that there will be so much demand for each and every title they publish that their titles will be checked out continually.

How we wish it were so…

for if all the ebooks we offer in our digital collections really were checked out continually, then we might feel less aggrieved and frustrated about the vagaries of pricing and the inconsistent lending models.

As a digital collection grows the older titles are checked out less and less (just like books in our physical collections) – so the argument of ‘into perpetuity’ is less compelling, perhaps more so because the titles are hidden in the cloud and in many ways invisible to patrons. As for replacing print libraries with digital only collections – it’s not an option for us. We still have readers who prefer print, a similar amount who will only read ebooks, and another group who are happily ‘hybrid’ and will read either. Because our job is to encourage kids to read and to love reading we can’t offer books in digital only formats because that would discriminate against the kids who prefer print.

Despite this reality (ebooks, just like print books aren’t always checked out and libraries are often buying the same title in multiple formats), some publishers compensate themselves for the illusion of constant checkouts and never ending demand by charging ebook prices several times that of the print book.  To protect themselves further, they often add in restrictive lending models based on the time leased (not owned), prompting libraries to repurchase an ebook after 12, 24 or 60 months have passed. Combining higher than print pricing and restrictive lease periods means that it’s difficult to confidently offer ebooks within a school library, either from a budget or a collection development perspective. 

Publishers need to balance the term and the pricing combination very carefully – because an unattractive lending term can be made more compelling with cheaper pricing and a premium (but not excessive) price, fits more with the one copy one user model. It is very easy to feel increasingly biased against the publishers with the least supportive terms for digital content, and also to view those publishers with supportive terms very favourably – and this can subtly influence decisions around future digital and print purchases.

There’s an element of publishers shooting themselves in the foot here – if the terms are too restrictive we won’t buy the titles at all, or if the titles aren’t checked out very much within the 26 or 36 checkout limit or the 12/24 month time period, then we are unlikely to repurchase them.

I can imagine the eCard now:

Hey Librarian, you paid a hefty price for our ebook, but no-one took it out, you qualify for another 52 checkouts or another 24 month term, …said no publisher ever”

The advantage of the short term lease period should be that we are able to add extra copies to satisfy short term demand (but at a reasonable price please).  Read what this article says about public libraries trying to satisfy holds for 50 shades of grey here and imagine the same scenario for the latest Diary of a wimpy kid or Rick Riordan in a school situation – it just wouldn’t happen.

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Publishers should realise that if a public library purchases a single copy of an ebook it may very well be checked out continually (especially in large public libraries or consortiums with populations in the hundreds of thousands or even millions)…however, in a school library with a much smaller population and a decent sized collection of both recent titles, backlist titles and classics; and where the librarians main mission is to convince kids to even TRY a book and to start reading (so that they become readers and dare I suggest it…book buyers), it’s more likely that anything other than the most popular titles will be only be checked out a handful of times in a year at most, regardless of format.

Because of the business they are in, publishers should be more aware than most of us about how demand for existing titles wains with every passing year – especially when so much new content is continually published and released. This is why I believe it is unfair to ask school (or public) libraries to pay big money for backlist titles (in some cases publishers are having ‘their cake and eating it too’ by hitting us with premium prices for frontlist titles and recent releases and charging inflated or higher than print prices for their backlist titles as well). Publishers need to consider that unless we can purchase digital copies of “oldies but goodies” (and those ‘no longer popular but worthy’ books that librarians recommend to kids), then their authors and their backlist may eventually get weeded from the physical shelves and will not be discovered by readers. In my library, shelf space for fiction is at a premium and we almost need to weed a book for each new title we buy. We can’t always afford to replace the weeded print copy with a digital version – especially if it is only available with limited time ownership.

I believe we are providing both authors and publishers a valuable service by keeping their titles in front of readers regardless of format.

In an ideal world publishers could offer more than one type of purchase option for each title e.g. copies at a slight premium to the print price for one copy one user perpetual access and a cheaper price for short term lease (anything from 2 months to 2 years) to satisfy new release demand and provide the opportunity for schools to purchase multiple copies as classroom novel sets.

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I admit that being able to instantly add new and extra content to satisfy demand, and not have to cover/process it, circulate it, generate overdue notices or replace books chewed by dogs or damaged in backpacks by food and drink is an advantage and it’s one that I don’t mind paying a small premium for. However, I do not want to feel penalised for this as in most cases we are also buying the physical copy and sometimes an audiobook too. Especially when taking into account that promoting digital content can feel more time consuming than promoting physical books (which you can at least hold in your hand while you are teaching and it’s on a shelf facing out to the world) – it takes time to manage the metadata, curate digital content, physically represent the intangible on shelves and in displays and to promote what isn’t seen.

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Example of promotional material produced using Word, Photoshop and Canva.com – this was placed inside a DVD cover as a place holder on the shelf using the cover image provided in OverDrive metadata. Once our collect grew we didn’t have the shelf room for these.

Publishers need to also be mindful that those of us with ebook platforms that have a substantial annual hosting fee, as we are already paying a considerable premium to even be able to offer digital content. 

It would be wonderful if publishers would consider the substantial investment school libraries and librarians have made both in time and money in order to present their authors works to our almost captive audiences. Add in our skills in reader advisory and promotion and really it’s us who are providing publishers and authors with a service!

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Despite my pessimistic introduction there have been some fantastic developments in the past twelve months and on the whole the possibilities for ebook lending are looking positive.

For schools who have resisted adding digital content there has never been a better time to start. The content that has become available in the last year is a game changer and if this content had been available when we first started our collection I suspect the makeup of content and titles of our digital collection would be quite different.

It sometimes feels very much like one step forward, two steps back with buying ebooks. The step forward being the increased and immediate availability of much wanted content; the two steps back being the feeling of being beaten and robbed over some of the pricing and the restrictive lease terms.

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GIF shows covers from of a selection of new content that we have added to our OverDrive collection. Many of these titles have been on our digital ‘wishlist’ for a long time.

Here are the significant developments from the last 12 months which have significant implications for digital collection development and affect how we can deliver content, support literacy in our school and maximise space in a Modern Library Learning Environment (where student and collaborative spaces take precedence over physical shelves and book storage).

Throughout the year: titles purchased on the 26 metered checkout model from HarperCollins expire. They’ve been checked out 26 times (and only rarely by mistake) and many titles have ‘earned’ the right to be repurchased based on genuine demand. Some books reached 26 checkouts in less than 12 months others have taken up to three years to get there. Where we had purchased extra copies to satisfy short term demand and the subsequent holds, we’ve let them quietly expire leaving us with one or two copies in the collection (e.g. Divergent). Other titles have only been checked out a few times but they’ll remain in our collection until that 26 checkout limit is reached. Interesting that the introduction of this model had librarians ‘up in arms’ but most are now used to and comfortable with this model.

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January 2015: Although they have been available in OverDrive for some time, we buy our first “Fixed layout” Read-a-long or narrated ebooks (an ebook and audiobook combined) to use with ESOL students, our youngest readers and a few older students who are struggling.

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May 2015: PanMacmillan, Macmillan Australia/UK titles become available for purchase (lease) by both public and school libraries in NZ and Australia, via OverDrive (previously available through Wheeler’s eplatform). An initial order of 50 titles is required and the term is 52 checkouts or 24 months – whichever comes sooner. Prices are reasonable and content is available on the same day as the print publication is released without a lag or wait period. Students are delighted to have Andy Griffiths in multiple digital and print copies.

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September 2015: Faber & Faber titles are now available in OverDrive marketplace. The ebooks are available on a 52 checkout/24 month lease (whichever comes sooner) at very reasonable prices.

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October 2015: Simon & Schuster etitles are extended to school libraries in NZ and Australia via OverDrive (previously only available to public libraries and not yet available to school libraries in Wheeler’s e platform). The titles are available for a 12 month lending period. Prices are similar to the NZ print price. The 12 month lease has implications for when titles are purchased and so far we’ve only purchased some of the most popular titles we have in print. I’ll be purchasing more at the start of the school year so that students get a full year of exposure and use.It’s likely that only the most popular titles will be ordered with this lease term.

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December 2015: New lending terms for ebooks in Libraries are announced in the US for both Penguin and Random House etitles which will be available on a one copy/one user model with a reduced maximum price cap of $65 US (versus $85 US) from 1 January 2016. Previously Penguin titles had been available on a 12 month lending model and Random House titles on a OC/OU model but with pricing of latest releases at up to 300% above the retail print price. Some of these US Random House titles are available to NZ/Australian libraries if the worldwide digital rights are held by the US imprint. We have only purchased a few of these titles in the past and I’m waiting to see what changes are made to prices.

December 2015: The news we have been waiting for…It is announced that both School and Public libraries in NZ and Australia can now purchase Penguin UK/RHCP UK/Penguin Australia/ RHNZ/RHA titles. The full catalogue of titles will be available for 36 checkouts or 24 months whichever comes sooner (this is a bit bewildering given the previous announcement in the USA regarding the one copy one user model but it highlights the huge divide between the ebook situation for libraries in the USA vs the rest of the world).There is a 90 day lag or wait period between the publication of the print book and the availability of the ebook. Pricing varies and latest releases (after the 90 day lag) seem highly priced in my opinion, and the NZ Australian backlist titles are more expensive than I think they should be – this pricing will influence future purchases and repurchases after expiry.  I note that some announcements stress that this is a two year ‘trial’.

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December 2015/ January 2016: The first titles purchased (leased) from Allen & Unwin under the 52 checkout or 24 month lending model in our collection expire. Some titles have NEVER been checked out, and some only a handful of times. Allen & Unwin titles are priced higher than those from Faber& Faber or Macmillan which use the same lending model. Which is a shame because students and librarians LOVE their books! Interesting to see the level of purchasing with each publisher because of this (A&U had been on a one copy one user model but after they switched to 52 checkouts our purchasing dwindled). I decide to only repurchase those that have been checked out more than 6 times in 24 months. The titles no longer held are still visible in our collection and should there be future demand (demonstrated by holds placed) I’ll consider repurchasing them.
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January 2016: I ask myself “Will 2016 be the year we are able to offer ebooks from Scholastic and Hachette to our students?” These are the last two major publishers missing from our digital offering.

But more importantly could…2016 be the year when publishers consider partnering with school librarians or at least softening their purchasing terms?

More details on each of the ‘issues’ and developments highlighted above will be the focus of future posts. I’ll talk about specific titles and series from each publisher to demonstrate the issues and implications, pluses and minuses of their pricing and lending models and give plenty of kudos to the publishers who are great to work with.

Background info:

While these are my own views it’s important to note that the school where I currently work utilises the OverDrive lending platform for both eBooks and eAudioBooks. We use other providers and platforms too, but this is our major platform for recreational digital reading.

  • Currently we have 3280 titles (plus duplicate copies) of both eBooks and eAudioBooks in our OverDrive collection.
  • We started buying digital content in OverDrive in May 2013
  • Our school is a BYOD environment with a mixture of iPads, smartphones, tablets and laptops in use.
  • Our school size is 1600 students and covers years Kindergarten to Year 13 – although most digital content is checked out by students in years 4-10.
  • On average our school community checks out 770 digital titles through OverDrive each month (lowest 357/highest 1133).

 

On banning books, and Into the river by Ted Dawe

NZ Herald article

Like every other librarian and bookseller in the country, I’ve had to remove this book from our shelves today. It’s been done and I’m using this as an opportunity to finally getting around to reading it myself. The book is no longer “discoverable” in our school Library catalogue – the record has been hidden and the book can’t be requested, reserved or checked out.

Into the river has only been borrowed 6 times since it was purchased in 2013, it’s been read by 3 senior students and 3 staff (two of those were Librarians and one of those is me). It’s always been marked as senior fiction – meaning a student could only check it out if they were in Year 11 or above and because of the original R14 restriction a student also had to legally be 14 years or older.

Without having ever read the book I’ve grieved about this all day. I resent not being able to go out and buy this for my teenager should they wish to read it. No one is holding a gun to any teenager’s head and forcing them to read this book. What are the moral minority so afraid of? If their values are so so righteous and strong, then how is it they will be immediately eroded by exposure to ideas different and in opposition to their own?

I just want to share some thoughts and opinions of others who can articulate what I believe is so wrong with this kind of censorship and why this book is necessary. Both these articles were written in 2013 when the book first became controversial.

Blog Post from Emma Neale (Emma was one of the original editors of the book before it was published). She’s articulated what I have struggled to put into words today – mainly that it’s through literature that young people empathise and make sense of the world and more importantly our own society (and this isn’t always a pleasant experience).

From Bernard Beckett Beckett was a judge in the 2013 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. Reading his responses to the comments published below his post makes me want to rush out and read all his books….

I vividly remember the conversation I had with a teenager who had read this over the summer holidays between his 11th and 12th year at school. This was from a mature, thoughtful, articulate and avid reader. While I can’t remember word for word exactly what he said, it went a bit like this….”It was disturbing, and I felt uncomfortable reading it, almost guilty for how privileged and easy my life is…but the whole point of reading fiction is to see life through someone else’s eyes – I mean it would be boring if I just read about things that mirrored my own life“.

There are so many teenagers in our society whose lives are frighteningly different to our own. Different doesn’t make them less real or less valid and everyone’s stories deserve to be told.

Genrefication and avoiding ‘bias’ in collection development – is it possible to represent all interests?

This is me musing after the discussion today on the SLANZA listserv and following on from last weeks thought provoking thread there, about the reading (or non-reading) habits of teenagers.

Our Library collections have been lovingly built up by many librarians over many years, but declining issues in the fiction collection in the upper part of the school library and changes to the visiting and borrowing habits of classes demands a different strategy. Any changes we make in our libraries have to be with future readers in mind, not just those we have now. Similarly, philosophical changes aren’t a one size fits all fix. Genrefication is not the answer for every Library.

Collection development feels like an art as well as a science but so is how we organise our collection, especially if it is large and well established – I sometimes wonder if it would be easier when starting a new library collection from scratch?
So how does one achieve real balance in a collection? Is the answer to get more student input into book choices…but how do we do this when many senior students don’t even set foot in the library unless it is for a curriculum specific lesson or to study? How formulaic and specific can ones budget allocation/collection planning documents be, so that we force ourselves to be committed to a more diverse and ‘even’ book buying strategy across all genres (whether separated out or merged)?

It’s easy to underestimate how much prior understanding we librarian ‘experts’ have about books when we are browsing or looking at our shelves. We are familiar with both our own collections and the authors and series within them and it is like having secret knowledge e.g. we recognise that a specific author writes a specific kind of book (usually), but if the spine is unappealing or hasn’t been designed well and doesn’t indicate what’s inside, it’s not going to stand out to a student in an A-Z sequence as matching his or her favourite genre or style of book.

I’m trying to see our collection through a student’s eyes. Most of our readers come in and do not want to consult the library catalogue before choosing – ‘discovery’ and quality metadata are really valuable but of little use if not consulted properly. Displays only go part of the way too, as not all readers are coming up often or regularly enough to see them all – it’s serendipitous if they stumble across THE book in a display of genres or theme…this is despite promotions, emails, and toilet door marketing etc!

I’ve selected and purchased for our collections in the past by trying to provide more of the material that is in demand and I believe this is what the Librarians before me have done too. Girls have been the biggest and most avid group of readers in this part of the library hence the natural inclination and possible bias in purchasing more books for them. Girls do doubly well as many of them are also reading the books that boys would think are theirs alone e.g. Cherub, or Andy McNabb, whereas most boys at our school won’t read books they perceive are too feminine.

‘Bias’ – makes it sound as if I am saying our librarians have knowingly tried to reflect their own reading interests and preferences – this isn’t what I mean…but I’ve been thinking about how we can be unknowingly biased by tending to buy more books that match the needs of the biggest group of users especially when budgets are constrained (oiling the squeakiest wheel).

Does this have a self perpetuating biased effect on our collections? e.g. if in a co-ed library we buy more for the avid reading girls and subtly less for the boys (who in many ways are often ‘potential’ rather than ‘actual’ readers), and then build up a collection that over time appears to reflect the reading interests of that larger group…. you do end up with boys expressing the view that there isn’t as much for them to read that they can find easily (but just as problematic for girls who don’t want Cathy Hopkins, or Meg Cabot but prefer Annabel Pitcher and John Green or for kids with other specialised reading interests too).

Pulling out our ‘chicklit’ into it’s own genre did two things immediately – firstly, made all those books really easy to find for the girls who love a heady dose of BFFs, crushes and intoxicating romance (and 99% of our boys wouldn’t touch these books in a million years)… It also instantly made it look like there was far more on offer for our boys and the rest of our girl readers when so many ‘hidden gems’ came to light simply from having the distracting books around them taken away. Bear in mind that when I pulled out realistic and contemporary fiction from the main sequence – there were so many ‘oriented toward girl only readers’ aka chick-lit – that they skewed the appearance of the whole realistic/contemporary genre – it was literally a wall of spines in varying shades of pink – making it very difficult for boys to feel confident browsing in that area (the same thing had happened when we genrefied our Junior collection so I shouldn’t have been surprised by this). Separating these out made the realistic books seem more even and gender neutral.

When a collection is genrefied it is possible to target specific genres with a selection strategy or goal if you feel it is under represented (a goal for next year for instance for us, might be finding more series that fit with Cherub and other high octane authors). Similarly if you get the genre ‘wrong’ for a single title or series and wish you had put it somewhere else it is really easy to reallocate it to another one, giving that book a new chance of discovery.

The worst that can happen if genrefication should prove a failure is that if we go back to A-Z or a hybrid of the two philosophies, or look at something completely different based on feedback from students and teachers. I don’t think it will – I am filling more empty acrylic face out stands in the genrefied sections than in the general A-Z sequence and the genrefied sections look attractive, vibrant and appealing (backed up by anec-data from students and teachers – I’m trying to not look at and overanalyse the issue stats too soon).

I’ll add some pictures in the morning🙂

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