385 library branches in 17 library systems in Wisconsin have decided to combine their ebook budgets.
The move makes a lot of sense. Location is meaningless in the digital world and every librarian knows that the bigger and better the collection is, the happier the patrons are. This will allow all of the public libraries in Wisconsin to offer their patrons a larger digital collection of ebooks than they would be able to offer on their own.
The libraries combined their ebook budgets through the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC). Their goal was to be able to spend $1 million on digital content for 2012. They reached their goal by having each member library contribute a portion of their content acquisition budget to the group budget.
Once the funds are pooled the ebook process is very similar to what it is at any other public library. There is a Digital Download Center powered by OverDrive of course. All the member libraries will point to this site from their website. All the ebooks offered by the group of libraries can be searched for and borrowed through the standard OverDrive process.
There are some interesting problems that could arise from the arrangement. Two representatives from each of the library systems will be tasked with selecting which ebooks and audio books to purchase. Getting 34 librarians to agree on what to purchase could present some challenges.
There’s also the question of funding and usage. What happens if one library system’s users are checking out half of all the ebooks but that library system is only paying for 1/17th of the budget for the library pool?
These issues are relatively minor compared to the huge benefits this offers to library patrons in Wisconsin. Combining budgets just makes huge sense in the digital world. It makes so much sense, that we think there should be a national digital library that combines budgets from all public libraries in the country to buy ebooks and digital content. This is definitely one step in that direction.