The Charleston Conference has quickly become a place where libraries, vendors, and publishers come together to talk about what’s next for digital collection development. This year’s program seemed particularly appealing, so I was looking forward to checking out the conference for the first time.

While there is still tremendous skepticism about what I call the “ipod moment” for the book industry (whether there will ever be a killer device for reading ebooks) there was little doubt that library users want access to books away from the library. Fellow attendees confirmed that the rigorous attention to ebooks in session after session was new to this year’s conference. Here is my list of the top themes from Charleston as they relate to ebooks.

1.    A Business Model for Everyone. Book publishers need to understand how libraries buy electronic content: through resellers, buying clubs, cooperative collection development groups, and consortia. Publishers also need to make sure that their ebooks are incorporated into approval plans through Blackwell, Yankee Book Peddler and others (many libraries are now considering ebook-preferred approval plans). It’s important to offer a variety of business models, directly and through different vendors, with a great deal of flexibility for libraries to fit buying into current systems and to deal with budget issues. Publishers should look at new business model trends, particularly the trend toward patron/demand-driven purchasing.

2.    Providing Quality Metadata is What We Do. One of the key ways publishers can add significant amounts of value to their ebooks is to make them easily discoverable through library channels. Part of this is the quality of ONIX data being pushed out to vendors and librarians (correct author names, consistent series names, and making clear if a title is a reprint or reissue were just a few specifics mentioned over and over again) and developing effective MARC records. The second part is to provide new title info at least six months prior to publication date, publish print and electronic simultaneously (no embargoes), work with vendors to add value to your data, and provide lots of context: cover art, tables of contents, reviews, pricing, subjects, series, level, reprints, availability, call numbers, subjects, descriptions, and, internally, cross-references.

3.    Beyond the Book and Journal. The conference had only limited talk about new kinds of scholarship being done, or publication outside of the book or journal container. Toby Green, Head of Publishing, Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), gave a standing-room only presentation on the work he is doing with datasets and the challenges OECD has faced in publishing this kind of content. This week the OECD will issue a white paper on Publishing Standards for Datasets and is also looking to work with a partner to make its technology available to other publishers. Green also demonstrated several projects innovating in the presentation of complex data: Gapminder (now being developed by Google), Mappingworlds, and Swivel.

4.    Digital Rights Management and Intellectual Property. Although publishers and libraries may still disagree about what falls under fair use, Digital Rights Management technologies continue to dissuade users and prevent significant uptake of ebooks. See my past blog entry on this issue.

5.    Textbooks, Textbooks, Textbooks. Every librarian wanted textbooks and noted the rise of online instruction and access. But are libraries willing or able to take over the cost of those textbooks if it shifts from student’s pocketbooks to library budgets? Kate Price at Library of Surrey recognized that libraries and publishers may need to negotiate special business models that suit both parties. Another speaker suggested a model where a library buys etextbooks for their premium prices and charges students a reasonable fee for access. There is a pent-up demand for these titles, so experiments with premium pricing in this area would be useful.

6.    License Negotiations are a Pain—for Everyone. Every librarian begged and pleaded for publishers to use the library’s model license or, at the least, the SERU model license. Is it realistic? Publishers don’t seem convinced. One of the main issues may be SERU’s perpetual access requirement, especially for certain types of ebook packages.

7.    Budgets for eBooks and other eResources. Expect that only about a quarter of the library’s overall budget is being used for books—the rest is for journals and other electronic resources. A high percentage of the library budget is already committed at the beginning of the year, with only a small percentage of discretionary funds. To deal with budgeting issues, many libraries are shifting their collections focus to institutional strengths and local and unique collections. As it’s not always cheaper for a library to go completely e with books, it will be interesting to see what the rise of the ebook will mean for the library budget.

8.    Interface Thresholds. Hope Barton, Director of Central Technical Services at University of Iowa Libraries, noted that a user can only master about three or four different interfaces. Many speakers remarked that one of the challenges to ebook use is that, unlike journals, there is no standard user interface. Sometimes librarians referred to the UI as a “platform”, but I suspect that it’s not about whether you’re using ebrary or MyiLibrary; rather whether these and other platforms are providing standardized methods for browsing, searching, reading, etc.

9.    Keep in Touch. In general, publishers need to be more in tune with library concerns—from the basics of invoices and fulfillment to broader issues related to scholarly communications. Librarians actually want to be consulted during the product development process, and both librarians and university presses are interested in the same subjects: preservation, contextualizing content, discovering content, demonstrating value to the institution, and developing trust in electronic content among users.

10.    Case Studies to Case Out. I didn’t catch every ebook case study presented during the conference, but here are a few case studies to watch: OhioLINK, a consortium of 89 libraries and 600,000 users, is trying a variety of new business models; Georgia State University has been working on their own ebook experiment for several years; North Carolina University is also working on expanding ebook buying and recommends that publishers need to try every kind of model for their ebooks; Kate Price from the Library of Surrey gave an excellent presentation on their growing portfolio of ebooks and the challenges they’ve faced in the process of developing their collection; and University of Texas is testing out demand-driven purchasing models.

Laura Cerruti is Director of Digital Content Development at University of California Press