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Occam’s Reader: Interlibrary E-book Loans

by on May 19, 2016

A student walking into a university library scans the catalog for an obscure reference book they need to complete a research paper. The library doesn’t have it, but they can borrow it from another library using an interlibrary loan program. Public libraries work the same way: just because the library doesn’t carry the book, it doesn’t mean it can’t get the text for you to borrow.

What about e-books? What if a student needs a study from a professor in the Washington State MBA program but attends Arizona State University? Can the library get it then? Ryan Litsey, an associate librarian who is head of Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery at Texas Tech and recipient of the Library Journal’s Mover and Shaker award for 2016, thought the answer should be yes. With his partner, Kenny Ketner, the library’s software development manager, he developed the first and only library developed method to loan e-books through an interlibrary loan program.

It’s called Occam’s Reader, and it’s being used by twenty-four libraries across the country by over 600,000 users (seventy more universities are projected to join the program by the end of the year). Occam’s Reader has access to collections from multiple publishers and universities, which equals millions of titles.

The name comes from the Occam’s razor principle: simplified, it says the simplest solution is usually the best. Litsey’s and Ketner’s goal was to develop the simplest system possible for libraries to share e-books with each other, and with the pilot program complete and version 2.0 ready to launch, that goal has been achieved.

“When students are doing their research and writing their papers and they come across a citation or want to look at a book that they want to use for a paper that we don’t have,” Litsey said, “they can now make a request for the electronic book through the Occam’s Reader program.”

This is great tool for the university libraries that use it. What about public libraries?

As libraries and publishers come to agreements and hopefully move toward an ownership model for e-books for preservation as well as library cost reduction, an electronic interlibrary loan program makes sense. Occam’s Reader provides a model that can be expanded to include non-academic libraries.

E-book Borrows are on the Rise

Why do we need this program? Because despite belief to the contrary, OverDrive numbers released in April of 2016 show several trends in relation to e-books.

  • Checkouts through OverDrive are on track to grow 30–40 percent for 2016 over the record levels achieved for 2015.
  • With a 30 percent increase in children’s digital books borrowed (Q1 2016 vs. Q1 2015), younger readers are increasingly embracing public library children’s and YA e-book collections.
  • Borrowing of self-published e-books is increasing—with 40 percent more titles being borrowed (Q1 2016 vs. Q1 2015).
  • Publishers are offering new access models that increase availability for readers.

As children and teens become more engaged with e-books, from enhanced digital copies that include audio and video links to comics that are now available electronically, digital borrows will continue to soar.

Loans Save Money

Library budgets in many areas are shrinking or staying static, while demands on libraries to provide public Internet, act as community centers, offer makerspaces, and still curate both physical and e-books and promote literacy acquisition of new titles is often challenging. The process must be very selective.

An interlibrary loan program allows that selection process to be even more specific. Libraries within the program could work together, especially in the area of academic and nonfiction publications, to offer a wider variety of titles without each library having to purchase its own copy.

How does this program benefit students and library patrons? Not only does an e-book interlibrary program save libraries money and expand what they can offer, but it benefits patrons in amazing ways.

E-Library Loans Enhance Distance Learning

In 2013, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS) were thought to be the coming revolution in education. While they have been much maligned, the growth of online education and distance learning has been astounding.

One of the big advantages is the ability to take classes anywhere. Research can be done via the Internet, but what about obtaining specific books and academic sources? Let’s say a student enrolled in the already revolutionary Global Freshman Academy offered online by Arizona State University and needs to look at a white paper on the Drake equation from a professor at Texas Tech (Both universities are current participants in the program). Occam’s Reader offers distance learners access to such resources wherever they happen to be taking the course, from their couch to a corner table at Starbucks.

E-loans will not replace the in-person research that is sometimes necessary, but it will make more research possible from almost anywhere.

E-Library Loans Enable Teleworkers

Business is being transformed in a number of ways. Many people can work from home or nearly anywhere. One of the reasons is that more data is available faster.

More and more companies are hiring teleworkers and freelancers, allowing their employees to work remotely. E-library loans add to the data available remotely, making this kind of work possible for even more people.

Distance learning and telework are on the rise, and there is little question e-books are here to stay. They will continue be a growing and changing part of libraries. Occam’s Reader promises libraries can continue to work together to provide knowledge and education to their communities. Patrons will continue to count on libraries as a place to find that knowledge, and count on library staff to be able to help them find it.

In that simple solution, we are all winners.


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