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Dispute may put a hold on e-book lending in Kansas

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, at 12:09 a.m.
  • Updated Monday, Oct. 3, 2011, at 8:34 a.m.

TOPEKA — A contract dispute between the state library and its former provider of e-books will likely result in at least a month when the increasingly popular format will not be available at public libraries across Kansas.

But Wichita is negotiating independently in an attempt to keep e-books at the ready for Wichita Public Library cardholders.

A lapse in service became a possibility during contract negotiations between the state and Overdrive, a global distributor of downloadable content that is based in Cleveland.

Overdrive proposed to increase its price by 700 percent over three years and force the state to relinquish ownership of the e-books it has bought for statewide use, state librarian Jo Budler said.

"I was really confused and alarmed by that," she said.

The state says that because the contract refers to "content purchased," it owns the e-books — as opposed to only having license to loan them to library users.

Budler said she sent letters to 161 publishers requesting approval for the state to transfer its titles to a new service. About half have said yes; the rest have yet to reply.

Overdrive did not respond to a call and e-mail from The Wichita Eagle.

In a June 20 article at LibraryJournal.com, Overdrive declined to answer specific questions and provided a statement:

"It is our goal to provide continued access and continuity of service for all of our Kansas library partners and their readers. However, we will cooperate with the State Library of Kansas and our publisher partners in the event of contract termination."

The state's e-books contract with Overdrive ends Dec. 5. Its new contract with 3M will start in the first quarter of 2012, perhaps as early as January, Budler said.

Meanwhile, the state is promoting other e-book sources, largely those with content that are public domain because their copyrights have expired.

"I think people are really anxious to read on their e-readers," Budler said. "So we want to give them some alternatives while we get our new servers up."

E-books and e-readers, such as Amazon's Kindle, have exploded in popularity. A phone survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project last spring found 12 percent of American households own an e-reader.

Kansans are checking out more e-books than ever.

In 2009, library users checked out nearly 146,000 e-books. That grew to 225,000 last year. More than 294,000 have been checked out this year.

The state spent more than $28,000 on e-books in 2010. But when it became clear that Overdrive wouldn't allow the state to transfer content to another provider, the state stopped buying e-books.

The state library's budget has been cut by 28 percent in the past four years.

"We just didn't want to throw good money after bad," Budler said. "If they were going to keep our content, we didn't want to buy more."

Meanwhile, Cynthia Berner Harris, director of the Wichita library system, said the city is trying to work out details of an agreement with Overdrive that would avoid a lapse in service.

In an e-mail, she said e-books are becoming more popular in the Wichita area. From August 2010 to August 2011, Wichita library account holders downloaded 40,124 items from Overdrive. About 90 percent were audiobooks, while the remaining 4,378 were e-books.

She expects usage to grow with the recent partnership between Overdrive and Amazon for Kindle-compatible books.

Reach Brent D. Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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