Unlike the US, where OverDrive has a near-monopoly on eBook lending, eBook lending among Australian public libraries is fragmented among a number of platforms. While competition is most certainly good, Australian libraries' eBook offerings are often more limited than their American counterparts. As a consequence, it can be very difficult to track down an eBook. I therefore set out to perform a survey of Victorian public libraries and their eBook lending offerings, to see which might be worth my time, and which not.
I performed a survey of all Victorian public libraries, as listed in the 2019 Directory of Public Library Services. I checked library websites and search engines to identify which eBook lending platforms they offered. I limited my survey to platforms focused on adult general fiction eBook lending – namely OverDrive/Libby, BorrowBox/Bolinda, cloudLibrary, Axis 360 and Wheelers; specifically excluding RBdigital (magazines), Story Box (Australian literature) and other specialised services.
For each service offered by each library, I identified the number of eBooks (excluding eAudiobooks). For cloudLibrary, this was not possible.1
This raw figure, though, is unlikely to provide an accurate reflection of the actual quality of eBooks offered. To assess this, I searched each service for a selection of quality eBooks, drawn from the 6 finalists in the ‘Best Novel’ category from the 2019 Hugo Awards. I scored each service using the proportion of finalists available on the service. Both eBooks and eAudiobooks were included in the search.
The results are shown in the table below:
Some key preliminary findings:
Size doesn't matter. While the service with the most eBooks, Eastern Regional OverDrive, did indeed perform the best, the third-largest service, Boroondara OverDrive, with 18,641 eBooks, did not have any of the 6 finalists! In this respect it was, outperformed by even the smallest libraries, such as Brimbank BorrowBox, with only 322 eBooks.
Someone really likes Naomi Novik. Over 60% of the services surveyed offered Novik's Spinning Silver, and in 95% of those services, that was the only one of the 6 finalists available.
But perhaps it is unfair to judge these services based on very recent works. I performed a limited further survey of 11 selected services, based on the 5 finalists in the ‘Best Novel’ category from the 2000 Hugo Awards. I selected services which performed well in the first analysis, and services with a large number of eBooks. The results are shown in the ‘HugoN2000’ column in the table.
Eastern Regional OverDrive continues to be the best performer, with 4 out of the 5 finalists on offer.
Performance among the other library services was varied, with only 3 out of the other 10 surveyed offering more than one of those finalists.
Harry Potter is a crowd-pleaser. The inclusion of Prisoner of Azkaban on the list of finalists meant every library service scored at least 1 eBook in this category.
But science fiction is not to everyone's taste, and so perhaps it would be fairer to judge based on ‘literary’ fiction instead? I performed an analysis of the same 11 selected services, based this time on the 6 shortlisted finalists for the Man Booker Prize in 2015.2 The results are shown in the ‘BookerS2015’ column.
Eastern Regional OverDrive comes first in this category as well, but its performace was equalled by Hobsons Bay cloudLibrary and Melbourne cloudLibrary.
Most libraries scored better on ‘literary’ fiction, although Yarra Plenty OverDrive bucked the trend, with none of the Booker finalists available, despite pulling a reasonable 2 out of 6 for the 2019 Hugo finalists.
These secondary surveys were quite limited in number and scope, and it would certainly be an interesting endeavour to see how the other libraries would score in these categories.
Eastern Regional Libraries Corporation's eBook lending through OverDrive offers the largest and highest-quality collection across each of the indexes surveyed, covering both science fiction and ‘literary’ fiction.
To download the complete data set, click here: Download ODS
A preliminary attempt to scrape search results to determine the number of eBooks resulted in unreasonably high figures (nearly 100,000 for a small library). Further refinement could result in progress in this area. ↩
It possibly says something about my reading habits that none of the titles on the list are at all familiar. ↩