Wherein I wonder why libraries have to have licenses for ebooks

I work for a large library system. And for a few years we’ve had an ebook collection, contracted through Overdrive.

We have a decent collection, but when we first acquired our ebooks, something which I didn’t quite understand was the concept of “licenses”. Sure, I understood the idea as it related to software. But I couldn’t fathom why that should apply to books.

My patrons have the same problem. I walked a lost soul through the thickets of ebook borrowing the other day. As I explained the parameters of library ebooks, she became more incensed.

“See,” I explained, “ebooks are like physical books. Just as we buy a certain number of copies of physical books, we buy a certain number of “copies” of ebooks. We’re buying licenses, just like for software.”

“But,” she countered, “they’re not software. They’re books, just in electronic form.”

“I agree. However, we don’t make the rules. We just have to explain the assinine rules to our patrons.”

Here’s how it works. Most publishers give you a discount on the ebooks. BUT, after 26 or so checkouts, you have to buy an entire new license. That would be like having to throw away a physical book after 26 checkouts and buy an entirely new replacement.

Some publishers don’t make you buy a new license after a certain amount of checkouts. But, to recompense themselves, they charge upwards of $80 for just one license.

These are the reasons why no library has the number of ebooks that Amazon has. It is just too expensive for a public library, with limited funds, to build an extensive ebook collection.

See how I mentioned Amazon? There’s a reason for that.

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The genesis of a librarian

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a librarian. I either wanted to be a doctor, or in the starting rotation for the Mets.

I was a skinny kid with no control, so the pitching career was out. And doctoring lost its allure for no apparent reason.

I had ideas of being an artist. A funny thing happened to that, though. As a kid, I could draw very well. But as I grew into my teenage years, and slowly uncovered my vocation for writing, my drawing skills deteriorated as my writing grew better. Of course, one could easily say that was due to the fact that I spent more time writing than I did drawing. But don’t give me that psycho-mumbo claptrap. I traded one gift for another, a gift which I used more or less all right, for a gift which has sustained me all these years. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

But, there was still the matter of a career. I went into UCLA with the intention of entering its computer science program. Another funny thing happened, this time to my math and science skills: as I got better at writing, I became worse at math and science. This fact was brought home indelibly to me one quarter, where in a fit of madness I took physics and calculus at the same time. I pretty much bombed in both. That was the moment when I had to engage in serious reflection, and accept that I wouldn’t traverse the usual first-generation American trajectory of going to university and getting a degree in the sciences which would secure me gainful employment. I declared English as my major. My mother didn’t weep, and I spent the following three years very happily at UCLA.

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