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National Agenda for Ebooks

1. Background2. Licensing Models3. Impacts and Benchmarks4. Accessibility5. Curation6. Content Deserts7. Get Involved

The Summit Report

Read the full summit report below to learn more about this effort and the great people who helped make it great:

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A National Ebook Summit was convened at the 2018 American Library Association Annual Conference to discuss challenges and opportunities in the library ebook marketplace. In attendance were thought leaders throughout the industry from libraries, library consortia, publishers, distributors and other experts. It was sponsored by the American Library Association and its Association for Specialized, Government and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASGCLA) division and emerged from conversations among members of ASGCLA’s Consortial Ebooks Interest Group.

National Ebook Summit Goals

  • To create a national agenda for ebooks.
  • To create synergy among people, organizations and initiatives in the ebook marketplace.
  • To build consensus on ebook strategy and principles.
  • To establish a working platform for constructive and meaningful dialogue, strategy development and progress.


The National Ebook Summit was born from the work of the ASGCLA Consortial Ebooks Interest Group and has been made possible with financial support from the American Library Association, Califa Group and the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS). Generous staff time has been provided by the Association of Specialized, Government and Cooperative Library Agencies, a division of the American Library Association, Califa Group, Massachusetts Library System and the Reaching Across Illinois Library System. Summit planning was led by Paula MacKinnon, Veronda Pitchford and Stephen Spohn with support from Luma Consulting.

Licensing Models

Developing simpler and more flexible choices from among different models that best serve the libraries, readers and the industry.

Co-facilitated by Deirdre Brennan and Sari Feldman


  1. Work with industry partners to push for the adoption of the current ONIX 3.0 standard to accommodate multiple licensing models per item and to provide input in ongoing development of the standard.
  2. Nurture results-oriented dialogue among publishers and librarians to optimize available licensing models to best meet library and industry needs and budgets.

Problems, Challenges and Opportunities

The first set of challenges discussed by this workgroup center on the ONIX standard. The ONIX for Books standard governs the sharing of metadata from publishers on eBooks. Currently, U.S. publishers primarily use ONIX 2.1 which only accommodates a single licensing model per record. This results in multiple records for the same work available via different lending models and overcomplicates purchasing, recordkeeping and end-user discovery. The ONIX 3.0 standard allows for multiple licensing models, but its use in the United States is limited by the willingness of trading partners to adopt the standard.

Next, participants discussed the shortfalls of the current suite of licensing models. It is unlikely that there is a single ideal model for licensing ebooks. Different licensing models reflect the myriad ways that libraries make books available for long-term use and to meet short-term needs and demands. All partners in the ebook ecosystem must come together to develop a standardized menu of licensing models. Additionally, any solution to this challenge must reflect that this is an ecosystem and the “business” of ebooks needs to work as well as the library use.

Libraries have a rich history of resource sharing, that is sharing print books and physical media amongst themselves via interlibrary loan to meet demand for content that is beyond the scope of their local collections which must evolve to meet reader needs in the digital age. Participants then discussed additional areas that deserve attention, such as interlibrary loan. Digital licenses often do not have provisions for interlibrary loan or specifically prohibit interlibrary loan, placing artificial obstacles between readers and ebooks. This is both a licensing and technology challenge that must be addressed.

While the conversations in this area were mainly focused on public library distribution, conversations and solutions in this theme must reflect distribution by all types of libraries. It was noted that academic libraries have been more proactive and have made more progress with distribution and lending of academic library content. Future work on licensing models should build upon that progress.

It should also be noted that pricing, while widely recognized as a big challenge, was not covered during the summit so that all participants throughout the industry could fully participate in the summit.

Organizational Partners

Book Industry Study Group (BISG) and ReadersFirst will support this area. Book Industry Study Group is responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the ONIX standard in the U.S. market. Its mission includes fostering dialogue among publishers and librarians. ReadersFirst membership represents people from libraries, publishers and distributors who are committed to better user experience for readers. Together, they are well-positioned to carry forwarded the national agenda as it relates to licensing models.

Impacts and Benchmarks

Accurately portraying the current impact of ebooks. Setting future standards and benchmarks for sales and usage statistics. Creating a research agenda and specifying needed studies to inform future action.

Co-facilitated by Todd Carpenter and Rachel Frick


  1. Convene library and industry leaders to develop and publish a study of ebook use that connects with existing research efforts.
  2. Educate libraries, publishers, distributors and authors about the impact of ebooks distributed via libraries.
  3. Develop core training on data and data analysis for library workers.

Problems, Challenges and Opportunities

This work group explored the need for a solid study of libraries and ebooks. How can we measure the accumulated use of a work? How can we assess the impact of library distribution on overall distribution of an individual work? How do libraries through readers advisory drive overall distribution and readership of individual works through libraries?

Currently, data on sales, distribution and library use are siloed. Libraries, in particular, have massive amounts of local data. Participants discussed how libraries can share data in a meaningful way to contribute to this work. Additionally, participants discussed potential intersections with the work of COUNTER, Project Outcome, Measures That Matter, the Panorama Project, IMLS, state libraries and other statistical programs or initiatives.

Additionally, the work group considered how national scale data might help to explore equity of access to digital content. How do socio-economic factors correlate to access and use, and how can we share and use this data while maintaining patron privacy?

Moving ahead, this work must come to agreement on metrics and practices for sharing and analyzing data. It was noted that there is an ASGCLA Research Agenda Task Force that may have some relation to the work of this group.

Finally, participants discussed a skills gap that must be addressed. Data, data analytics and ethical applications of data are not consistently or adequately addressed in LIS education today. We must establish a set of core competencies and develop/coalesce training to help librarians to effectively use data to drive decisions and understand the use and implications of access to digital content in their communities.

Organizational Partners

Book Industry Study Group (BISG) will support this area. The conveners have also suggested that the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA) partner with BISG to bring focus here. Book Industry Study Group is already working with industry partners on open access ebook usage, a project sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. A preliminary report that informed a December 2018 summit is available for review. A final report of this effort will be published in May 2019.

COSLA, in partnership with the Institute for Museum and Library Services, launched the Measures that Matter project to “examine, evaluate, and map the landscape of public library data collection in the United States.” COSLA will consider points of intersection between Measures that Matter and ebooks as it moves forward with the Measures that Matter Action Plan.


Ensuring that ebooks and ebook platforms meet accessibility guidelines for people who are blind or visually impaired or for people with intellectual disabilities.

Co-facilitated by Becky Brasington Clark and Lisa Wadors Verne


  1. Promote awareness of and compliance with EPUB Accessibility standards.
  2. Perform accessibility testing on major consumer and library eBook platforms and apps.
  3. Develop model licensing language that creates appropriate focus on accessibility and that improves adoption of the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT).
  4. Develop training for librarians on accessibility, accessible features of computers and mobile devices, accessible content and accessibility features of ebook platforms and apps.

Problems, Challenges and Opportunities

This work group took an expansive view of accessibility. In addition to people who are blind or visually impaired, the group considered intellectual differences, e.g. autism, and people impacted by the digital divide due to socioeconomic and geographic factors. There are a variety of different definitions of accessibility that are shared within the industry. This leads to misunderstandings and mismatched expectations. The group felt that a shared definition of accessibility must be established and then applied to all aspects of ebook creation and distribution.

First and foremost, this group grappled with the lack of accessibility in mobile devices, ebook apps and ebook files themselves. Accessibility, it seems, is often an afterthought in the development of library ebook applications. Additionally, EPUB 3 provides the greatest level of support for accessibility. However, EPUB 3 is not fully supported or implemented in all ebook platforms and very few ebooks are currently made available in EPUB 3 format. ONIX 2.1 does not adequately reflect accessibility when a library has multiple copies of an ebook from which to choose, and licensing does not often adequately convey expectations and obligations to make platforms and content fully accessible. A lack of ebook accessibility metadata in ONIX leads to a lack of metadata in library discovery systems for readers. (VitalSource is making some progress on this front.) This problem is more fully addressed in ONIX 3.0, but the standard is not widely implemented in the United States (see Licensing Models). Also, it was noted that accessibility of ebook content in foreign languages is particularly poor in the United States.

Similar to the Impacts and Benchmarks work group, participants in this group felt that there is also a skills and training gap when it comes to accessibility. They recommend enhancements to LIS education and the development of core competencies and training to fill the gap. Public library staff in particular lack access to accessibility experts who can assist them to meet the needs of their communities or who can advise them on the procurement of accessible digital content.

Finally, participants reflected on ebook industry practices that unknowingly affect accessibility, specifically the digital divide. According to Pew and other research, mobile use is greater in lower income communities where there is a higher prevalence of older mobile devices. Many products are not fully backward compatible with older devices. One step to address these issues and increase access is to build applications that adapt seamlessly to lower-bandwidths.

Organizational Partners

Accessibility efforts will be supported by the DAISY Consortium with additional support from the Book Industry Study Group. Both organizations have already been working hard on this theme, and we are delighted to help connect the broader library community to their work. In particular, the DAISY Consortium has two important related initiatives. Inclusive Publishing promotes awareness of and compliance with EPUB Accessibility standards along with related resources for publishers and authors. They also have a crowd-sourced initiative to evaluate ebook applications for accessibility.


Giving libraries greater ability to curate materials to help patrons discover them (through easier acquisition, flexible displays, improved “browsing” and “filtering” functions).

Co-facilitated by Michael Bills and Michael Santangelo


  1. Support the development of standards that drive the interoperability of ebook systems for easier library curation and end-user discovery. Evaluate existing standards and identify gaps where new standards should be created.
  2. Develop talking points on the importance of standards that can be used for marketplace advocacy, negotiation, development and fundraising.
  3. Research the ebook supply chain and where libraries can most effectively exercise curation. Make recommendations that are applicable across library types and scalable to all sizes of libraries.
  4. Support the development of standards that will drive the interoperability of ebook systems to improve end-user discovery and use.
  5. Evaluate gaps in metadata that hinder curation and discovery and make recommendations for improvement.
  6. Support the development and expansion of SimplyE.
  7. Advocate for increased interoperability by proprietary eBook platforms with SimplyE.

Problems, Challenges and Opportunities

Many ebook platforms are proprietary and not standards-based, making interoperability and discovery difficult especially when a library has multiple ebook providers. Library ebook platforms must be based on standards that enable libraries to streamline discovery and to fulfill their roles to lead readers to the best content to meet their needs. It was noted that standards for ebooks and ebook platforms need to be flexible, living documents, as the pace of technological change is rapid. Projects like SimplyE rely on standards such as OPDS and ONIX.

Additionally, participants noted that it is difficult to provide seamless discovery of ebooks in and out of copyright simultaneously. Public domain ebooks via open websites are often not built for effective library distribution.

Organizational Partners

NISO and the soon-to-be SimplyE governance group are poised to take supporting roles in this thematic area. FASTEN (Flexible API STandard for E-content NISO) is a NISO working group that is developing standards and tools to seamlessly integrate digital content into library discovery and delivery solutions. SimplyE is a library developed eBook discovery and delivery platform originally developed at New York Public Library with grant funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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Content Deserts

Obtaining desired but unavailable or difficult to find content (e.g. backlist, non-English language, out of print).

Co-facilitated by Dana Bostrom and Andrew Medlar


  1. Study user demand for ebooks in the content desert.
  2. Develop a coordinated approach to expand access to this content along with guideposts for similar initiatives to keep the momentum.
  3. Ensure that content made available is discoverable via SimplyE to maximize access.
  4. Add OpenLibraries content to SimplyE. COMPLETED

Problems, Challenges and Opportunities

This group considered the definition of “content deserts.” (The name choice for this theme may have hindered progress at the summit.) In what parts of the content desert is user interest greatest and how can we maximize access to this content once it is made available?

Organizational Partners

ReadersFirst will support this work along with its work on licensing models. ReadersFirst is already committed to carrying forward the work of the summit, and its members are well-suited to provide input on priorities for a focused approach to securing access to ebooks in the “content desert.” It is recommended that ReadersFirst and ALA engage with the Internet Archive’s Open Libraries Project which already facilitates access to ebooks that are difficult to find or unavailable in electronic formats.

Get Involved

We can’t do this without you! This national agenda is only the beginning. Together, we can make a difference and maintain focus on this agenda as it continues to evolve to guide our efforts.

  1. Learn about the allies and resources listed on this site.
  2. Join the ASGCLA Consortial Ebooks Interest Group listserv.
  3. Attend upcoming events posted on this site.
  4. Keep reading to learn about specific ways you can lend a hand.


  • Look for opportunities from Book Industry Study Group and ReadersFirst to participate in dialog.

Impacts and Benchmarks



Content Deserts

  • Learn about Internet Archive’s Open Library Project.
  • Stay tuned for opportunities from ReadersFirst to participate in dialog.