How e-books are selected at the library

December 28, 2011

Today, I responded to a customer question about how e-books are selected here at the library, and why we don’t allow RINCs for this material.  Since many of you may be asked similar questions by customers I’m copying the essence of the text of my response below (with just a wee bit ‘o editing).

We select e-books throughout the year working from lists provided by OverDrive.  The collection is a mix of bestsellers and backlist titles from popular authors. Publishers consider the library market to be entirely separate from the consumer market and so they require that libraries have measures in place to prevent illegal copying of their material. OverDrive negotiates these contracts with publishers and provides mechanisms to ensure that material cannot be pirated. Amazon, though they have recently begun to partner with OverDrive so that Kindle users can access public library ebooks on their devices does not sell ebooks to public libraries. Amazon’s primary goal is to sell goods to consumers. They are not interested in selling materials to public libraries.

As I mentioned above, publishers see the library market as very different from the consumer market and this has an impact on what is available for us to purchase.  Some publishers won’t sell e-books to libraries at all; others will sell but won’t release their most recent titles to libraries until some time has passed.  Titles with a delayed release date are said to have been embargoed.  Two of the largest publishers Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan don’t sell to libraries at all.  This can cause confusion about how the library purchases e-books, because a customer can see that Stephen King’s latest bestseller 11/22/’63 is available for sale as an e-book on either Amazon, or Barnes & Noble but not available at the library as an e-book.  Other bestselling titles are available immediately, or they have an embargo and later get added to the collection, so as a customer from the outside looking in it may appear that the library e-book collection isn’t as responsive to customer demand as it is with the physical collection.


Things become even messier when we talk about backlist titles for authors.  When a publisher releases a new title by an author they typically will release some but not all of an author’s backlist.  So when a mystery author releases volume 6 in their detective series, the publishing house might release volumes 1, 2, 3, and 5 but not volume 4 in the series.  Why this happens and how they make decisions about what volumes to release is something that constantly puzzles librarians.

We currently do not accept RINCs for digital materials such as e-books, because of this separation of consumer and library markets by publishers, and the unpredictability that this creates in how our collections are created.  The audiobook, music, and film publishing markets are all equally unpredictable when it comes to what consumer and libraries can purchase.

For those not in the know, a RINC is short for Request for an Item Not in the Catalog.  Library customers can submit RINCs for books and media, and if the title is purchased, a hold is placed for the customer.  If a RINC is rejected the customer gets an email notifying them.

posted by jim




8 Responses to “How e-books are selected at the library”

  1. Theresa Says:

    Thank you. This will clear up a lot of confusion!

  2. David Says:

    Good article about libraries vs publishers over e-books here at Publishers Weekly:

  3. Anne Says:

    Thanks Jim!
    I imagine you follow the Librarian in Black blog. She recently had a post about how different libraries are offered different Overdrive title lists to choose from as well. Any idea if or how we’re affected by that?

  4. David Says:

    I appreciate the problems that publishers can cause by deciding libraries cannot obtain eBooks and the frustration that allowing RINCs would create. But customers can search for an item at Overdrive ( and determine that Overdrive does have an item that libraries can license! It seems, to me, that allowing a customer to RINC that item, so that SnoIsle can determine if they will license it, might be worthwhile?

    E.g. “Idoru” by William Gibson, is available from Overdrive, but the eBook version, that is available from Shoreline Library, is not available at Sno-Isle. Other than RINCs, how does Sno-Isle determine what customers might want and that is currently available from Overdrive, but is not currently licensed by Sno-Isle?

  5. Jim McCluskey Says:


    It’s not as simple as that.

    First of all searching is completely misleading as to availability since it includes materials that are available in one region of the globe say the U.K. for instance but not in North America. And on top of that the title held in say KCLS may have been purchased at a time that the item was licensed for the U.S. but then that license expired, and it isn’t available any longer in the U.S. though it is elsewhere. Sno-Isle has a Charlaine Harris title that we purchased and then the license expired which meant that though we could keep the copy we paid for; we couldn’t purchase additional copies to meet our holds queues.

    In selecting titles I look at bestseller lists, authors that are on our print standing order lists, award lists in various genres, and for many titles I check our catalog to see if an author is popular with our customers reading the print copy. BTW, I didn’t check Idoru by Gibson so that might just be a title I haven’t purchased yet. If you try to compare KCLS offerings to ours be prepared to find a lot of things we don’t have, simply because they’ve been offering ebooks for nearly 7 years and we’ve only offered them since mid 2010. And then of course there’s also a difference in the size of the materials budgets for both of our library systems which is quite large.

  6. David Says:

    Thank you for you reply. I didn’t even think about items that could be purchased at one time and were no longer available. I only used Idoru as an example (the first one I found). I haven’t actually gotten any requests for it (at all – let alone as an eBook).

  7. David Says:

    Thank you for your explanation re: availability of volumes in a series. I was demo’ing eAudiobooks to a customer today and they saw Vol 5 of a series and asked if they could get Vol 1. We looked and Overdrive offered Vol 5, 7, 10 and 11, but not 1-4, 6, or 8-9. I used your explanation and we both had a laugh (and a cry).

  8. Jim McCluskey Says:

    Sometimes trying to figure these things out is like a game of whack-a-mole as soon as you think you’ve got a solid understanding of it, some other aspect of weirdness pops up that makes everything unclear again.

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