There are few options right now for school districts and libraries who want to offer E-Books via digital distributions systems online that are robust, easy to use and to implement, and offer a wide range of collections.
There are several good options for non-fiction resources, in the form of Digital libraries from EBSCO or Gale Cengage Virtual Reference Library. While these collections are easy to use, integrate well with existing union catalogues, and contain many E-Books, they are heavily focused on non-fiction resources, and carry only basic, public domain fiction titles.
There are individual publishing houses starting to offer their collections online through mostly browser based access to the digital versions of their titles. One good example of this is Orca Publishers, who not only offer their E-Books through the usual digital distributors (Amazon, Kobo, Overdrive and Tablet Apps), but also offer browser based access to class sets of their books through their own website.
The difference is that using the distribution systems of the E-Reader manufacturer (Kobo, Amazon) or distribution company (Overdrive), allows patrons to download an E-Book directly onto any E-Reader device, while using a “browser based” download limits patrons to reading the E-Book or digital resource on a full computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet, but not a single-use low-end E-Reader.
Today, the most utilized and contracted digital distribution system used by public and school libraries across North America is called Overdrive. This digital distribution system takes care of managing your digital collections, lending, and maintaining access for your students and patrons 24/7. As described on the Overdrive.com website:
“Give your students access to digital books and more — anytime — with School Download Library. Students can check out titles online, and read or listen offline on PC or Mac®, smartphones, MP3 players, and eBook readers including Sony® Reader and Kindle® (US only). You build this digital collection based on grade level or school curriculum with digital titles available in virtually every subject.” (http://www.overdrive.com/Solutions/Schools/)
As the description implies, Amazon Kindle E-Readers are not supported in Canada, which is a significant drawback for any of the Kindle E-Readers, as they cannot borrow books from any OverDrive distribution system. Every other device, from all levels, basic to tablet, including all smartphones are supported, but no Amazon Kindle products are at this time.
All of the public municipal libraries across British Columbia already use the Overdrive system, and have implemented an easy to use check-out system that allows patrons, using their library card barcode and password, to check out any of their E-Books currently available.
The Overdrive collection within the BC Public Library System is currently at 13,120 titles and growing. Many of the more popular and newer fiction titles have extensive waitlists, despite multiple copies of each title.
A couple of challenges already mentioned regarding the Overdrive distribution system warrant reminding here, that Penguin Publishing has pulled all new E-Book releases from the Overdrive system, and that Overdrive does subtly restrict Library and patron access to collections based on geographic limitations. Individual libraries also lose control and ownership of their digital collections when signing up with Overdrive. They no longer own any of the E-Books they lend, and they no longer control how long they are in circulation, as is the case of Harper Collin’s E-Books and their 26 times lending limit.
Another example of a digital distribution system for British Columbia school districts and libraries is Follet Shelf, a system that offers similar functionality as Overdrive and a significant catalogue of available fiction and non-fiction titles. Follet Shelf also has unlimited access in a browser based environment, allowing entire classes to explore these digital E-Books simultaneously with unlimited checkouts available on select non-fiction titles. There are a few examples of school libraries, mainly secondary school libraries that have implemented this distribution system on a trial basis and are currently evaluating their experiences.
One last distribution system available to British Columbia libraries to enable basic E-Book lending functionality is the Canadian Electronic Library:
“as of December 2010, the Canadian Electronic Library has released over 30,000 Canadian monographs to libraries (of which over 12,000 are current in-copyright titles from 65 Canadian publishers,) making the service Canada’s largest collection of online books for libraries. The service is in use in every university in Canada.” (http://canadianelectroniclibrary.ca/celhome.html)
There is a lot of Canadian content available through this distribution system and they do offer competitive pricing, which can allow smaller library collections to more easily embed this digital distribution system into their catalogue, using MARC record integration with their online union catalogue. The Canadian Electronic Library only offers browser based access to their collection. At this time they do not support any of the low end single-use E-Readers. Also worth mentioning is that this Electronic Library is heavily focused on Post-Secondary resources and will not be as functional and useful as other options for K-12 environments.