Does OverDrive Really Care About Libraries?

June 19, 2012

As a school librarian, I am currently being inundated by vendor emails from not only the upcoming ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, California, but also the near-concurrent ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference being held just down the coast in San Diego. This does, however, make for some interesting comparison points for marketing research. Do some of our vendors really care about our libraries? Or do they just care when they are talking to us?

Late last week, I received an email from OverDrive, sent as part of its ISTE promotions, that was quite different from the messaging we in the library world receives. Instead of speaking as a library partner—a company dedicated to helping provide digital books through libraries—OverDrive seems to be presenting itself to the school technology world as a library replacement. “Lend your students eBooks from a publisher-supported digital library powered by OverDrive,” the ad states. Never mind, this seems to suggest, lending from a school library that includes ebooks; tap into an OverDrive library replacement that your school can buy after laying off the school librarian.

The OverDrive website suggests a stronger level of support for school libraries: “Extend your library with 24/7 online access” is the call to action for schools on the Market Solutions page. Reading this, it seems that OverDrive wants schools to continue funding their school libraries, but also to supplement the physical collection with digital offerings. The ISTE advertising, however, reads to me like OverDrive is throwing school libraries under the bus.

OverDrive isn’t the first library company to engage in a bit of targeted messaging that seems to forget about library roots when speaking to other market segments. A few years back, Follett launched a product called Cognite at an ASCD conference (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, but now just an acronym with no expanded meaning). According to the graphics and marketing material on Follett’s website, the software sat as a layer between the library collection and students and teachers in a school—a position one might think would be occupied by a certified school librarian. However, Follett’s website about the Cognite product failed to even mention the word “librarian,” as verified by a Google site search for the term.

This is, I am afraid, one of the downsides of going digital. Traditional library companies that marketed heavily to libraries because we were the physical gatekeepers to knowledge are now able to bypass the library and sell directly to school administrators. Will we see future OverDrive advertising for a national conference of mayors and town supervisors talk about creating a digital lending library through OverDrive as a replacement for a recently closed public library?

If our branding and value perception is built around providing access to content, then when content goes digital libraries don’t seem to be needed. As much as it galls me to see this sort of targeted marketing campaign—which drops support for libraries in an effort to appeal directly to other segments—I cannot help but think that this may be more and more the norm in an e-content world.