There are numerous non profit organisations, such as the Gutenberg Project, which provide free access to downloadable eBook content in a variety formats (EPUB, HTML etc). Often a selection of out of copyright classics sourced from these sites is included in commercial aggregator platforms at no additional expense.
Some public libraries might also consider adding MARC records for select titles sourced from these free content sites directly into their catalogues, a common practice for government documents (annual reports etc). The advantages for a library service considering incorporating free externally hosted digital content into their collection include:
- no acquisition costs
- straightforward access, as these sites tend not to have authentication protocols
- no digital rights management to contend with
- unlimited simultaneous access is generally provided, so no delay in accessing content
The potential disadvantages include:
- free eBooks can lack credibility in the minds of patrons and staff. There can be a degree of variability in the quality of the digital publications due to poor OCR techniques and a lack of editing.
- no guarantee of continued long term availability. These organisations are often dependent upon supporter based funding and or advertising revenue. This can have an impact on continued platform development
- no service level agreements and minimal technical support if any for clients
- unlike commercial aggregators it is unlikely that the free eBook content providers will supply MARC records
- Whilst the content is free there are staff expenses involved in selecting content and creating, maintaining and deleting MARC records.
Another strategy is to simply list the free eBook website providers on the library website.