A risk that paid off

Last week a campus-wide email was sent out by someone in college administration and it caught my eye because it talked about upcoming availability to our college of an e-book that related to a current chapel series. The e-book was going to be offered free of charge by a well known publisher.

This got me thinking: What role could my library play here in simplifying the access and download process for this e-book? I had a quick and somewhat sketchy idea of how this might work but there was a lot of unknowns. I ran my idea by my administration in a quick email and was encouraged to pursue it. I then emailed the person who sent out the campus-wide email, told him what I had in mind, and was referred to the publisher representative to seek permission. Again, there were many unknowns at this point: what e-book format are we talking about here? what did the publisher have in mind in terms of providing it directly to our college? would they give permission for the library to facilitate access? would the IT infrastructure I intended to use hold up under the high traffic caused by potentially hundreds of people trying to download the e-book?

In very short order, I received word from the publisher that they were fine with me loading the e-book on a local server to more readily distribute to Wheaton College students, faculty, and staff. The campus administrator gave me details on how to download the e-book from the publisher site. I then quickly figured out answers to many of the unknowns and set about getting this slightly offbeat idea to work. The only question I really couldn’t answer beforehand was whether the server and network could handle so many simultaneous downloads.

It turned out that the e-book was available in three flavors or versions: PDF, EPUB, and MOBI. The process for downloading these versions from the publisher’s site was a little complicated and this confirmed for me the wisdom of trying to figure out an easier way for others to access the e-book. I loaded the three versions on a local fileserver that I recently began using for this purpose, i.e. locally hosted e-resources including e-books.

I then turned to the task of how to best provide access to the campus, focusing on three things: a short, stable URL to each file; simple text to communicate how to access them; and how to best track downloads of each version over time in order to measure the success of this effort. Fortunately I was able to come up with solutions to all three. I decided to use PURLs for the short, stable URL; I ensured that these routed users through our SFX instance (this also ensured that off campus users could download the files); and I then worked with my library director to come up with simple language to guide people to download and use whatever version of the e-book they wanted.

For this last part, I sent suggested wording back to the campus administrator who readily accepted it. He then emailed a followup campus-wide announcement to everyone on Wednesday of this week to coincide with the chapel series on the same topic as the e-book. Part of that wording included my contact information in case anyone had difficulty downloading the e-book. More importantly, the announcement highlighted the fact that the download links were made available by my library.

I’m really happy to report that everything seems to have gone as well as I could possibly have hoped. Only one person contacted me with a report of some initial trouble and that problem was quickly resolved. In the first 24 hours since the announcement of availability went out to the campus:

  • the e-book has been downloaded a total of 801 times
  • the PDF version is the most popular choice with 469 downloads
  • the MOBI version (can be read on Kindle devices or with Kindle app on Android and iOS devices) is next at 195 downloads
  • the EPUB version (can be read on Nook devices as well as iOS devices using iBooks) was downloaded 137 times

This whole thing was a bit of a crazy idea whose details had to be worked out on-the-fly on short notice to make it work. It was a risk but I think it was well worth it. Campus administration was very pleased with the whole thing and our library got some good publicity to boot!

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