Networks Pilot Successful eBook Program


June 11, 2018
Celeste Bruno
Communications Director
1-800-952-7403 x208

People have long been accustomed to getting print books from libraries across the Commonwealth. This kind of reciprocal borrowing may soon be possible with eBooks and eAudiobooks as well. Three automated library resource sharing networks representing over 100 public libraries: the Old Colony Library Network (OCLN), SAILS, and the Minuteman Library Network recently concluded an eBook sharing pilot project that tested whether connecting these networks’ eBook collections through the OverDrive platform was feasible and whether that connection would give residents simplified access to eBooks and eAudiobooks in all three networks, something that had previously not been possible. The results have been encouraging.

During the initial six month pilot, checkouts between different networks nearly doubled. SAILS patrons, for example, borrowed roughly 2,700 titles from outside their own network during the first month; in the last month of the pilot they borrowed more than 5,000. In fact, in the final month, 15.3% of the SAILS patrons’ checkouts were titles that belonged to the other two participating networks.

“With the success of the pilot, we’re moving closer to making eBooks as easy to borrow as print books and we’re giving residents better access  to more e-titles, “ said Susan McAlister, Executive Director of the Minuteman Library Network.

Three more networks plan to join the project soon and it is estimated that all of the networks will be on board by the fall, 2018. Residents will first search their own network for a title; if it’s not found, they can check to see if another network has it available.

The pilot is the second major effort by the Commonwealth’s libraries to make statewide eBook sharing possible. The first was the Commonwealth eBook Collections (CEC) which launched in 2013, run by the Massachusetts Library System (MLS) in partnership with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). The CEC was funded in part by the MBLC (with federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funding) and MLS. Local libraries paid to participate, with membership growing to over 240 public libraries as well as several hundred school and academic libraries. The Commonwealth eBook Collections purchased over 40,000 eBooks and eAudiobooks. Most of these titles will be moved into the new program.

Prior to the CEC, vendor restrictions meant that patrons could only borrow eBooks found in their libraries and local networks, and library eBook products were cumbersome for patrons. The CEC was one of the first of its kind in the nation and CEC staff played a leading role in negotiating fairer eBook pricing for libraries, in providing input that has made eBooks easier to access, and in advocating for vendors to produce eBooks that are accessible to everyone, including people who are blind or visually impaired.

The new eBook project takes that progress to next level.  It is the latest example of libraries and library organizations working together to share resources and increase access for patrons. . Other than the membership fees public libraries already pay to be in an automated network, there is no additional cost to the public library. With federal IMLS funding and state funding, the MBLC is paying the OverDrive platform fee; MLS is assisting school libraries and libraries that are not members in one of the networks; networks will continue to purchase eBooks and eAudiobooks for their own network that can now be shared across networks. Once all networks join, there will be 345 participating public libraries with an estimated shared collection of over 350,000.

Residents can learn more about the new eBook pilot on

About MBLC

The Board of Library Commissioners ( is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.