If you want to embrace the future of library services and go digital, you are going to come across some terms that might not make any sense to you. One thing you will hear over and over is Digital Rights Management. The logic behind the premise is fairly simple: to maintain the copyright access to the work is controlled. When you think about it, Digital Rights Management (or DRM), is all around you. It is the reason you can’t just burn a copy of that blockbuster DVD you bought. It’s the reason you have to purchase a license to operate programs like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop.
So how does this come into play with ebooks? Simple. You apply the same premise: the copyright holder restricts access. If someone borrows a book from the library in hardcover, they probably aren’t going to pick up a pen and hand copy every page. Nor are they likely to photocopy or scan every page either. It’s labor intensive and there isn’t a whole lot of payoff, so it doesn’t happen often.
However, it’s pretty easy to copy or share a file. DRM prevents people from doing that. It protects the copyright owner’s work and allows them control over how and where that work is distributed. The terms of DRM are usually explained in the end-user license agreement that nobody ever reads, but probably should. There is DRM on a sufficient amount of the digital content that’s out there. Most e-readers are going to run on proprietary software, meaning the operating system only talks to a certain type (or types) of files.In other words, if you have a Kindle ereader, you can’t download a file formatted for iBooks and expect it to open. Apple has their own DRM that can only be used with their devices; Amazon has their own as well. Adobe has the ADEPT DRM, which works with theEPUB format as well as PDF (which makes sense being as they created the .pdf in the first place). Unlike Apple and Amazon, though, Adobe sells their technology to anyone who wants it—meaning if you decided to switch from, say, a Kobo to a Nook, you could bring over your whole library because it would all be the same DRM. Same for books from the google play store. There is a little more compatibility with Amazon than Apple, as you can actually install the Kindle app on most computers, android devices, and—believe it or not—iOS devices.
For a library taking a turn into the digital age, you have to decide what you want to provide for your patrons. If you want to have ereaders available for people to check out, you have to decide which ones are likely to be the most appealing to the technology fans who frequent your library. Once you decide if you’re going to be providing ereaders, you can decide what types of files you’re going to offer. Most libraries offer a choice of kindle files or EPUB and let the user select the one that is compatible with their reader. You also have the option of offering something like the overdrive app, which patrons can download for free on compatible smartphones and tablets, thereby providing them with a platform to read ebooks on.
Whatever you decide, be sure to offer training to both the librarians and either virtual or library classes for patrons so that they can learn how to use ereaders and the digital library. The more comfortable people are with this kind of technology, the more likely they are to use it. We have found that holding a class in early January always attracts patrons who have gotten ereaders as holiday gifts.