We support electronic content as part of the system's resource sharing initiatives through our programs.

E-Content Vendor Document Collections

RAILS Electronic Content Strategy

RAILS History of E-Content

Illinois library systems have an incredible history of resource sharing.

It began with the formation of library systems in 1966 and continued with the then innovative sharing of online catalogs across libraries to ensure Illinois residents had access to an expansive selection of books and information beyond their library's walls.

That tradition has continued in the digital age when in 2013, the Illinois Secretary of State and Illinois State Library awarded a $985,219 grant to the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS) and the Illinois Heartland Library System (IHLS) for the "E-books for Illinois" Program, named eRead Illinois.

The eRead Illinois program focuses on three key goals:

  • Expanding access to e-books for Illinois residents
  • Training on e-books for libraries to better serve their communities
  • Exploring further opportunities for increasing access to e-books through collaboration with Illinois authors, libraries, publishers, and other organizations

The grant program supported IHLS libraries in the SHARE catalog joining the Cloud Library group and RAILS libraries and non-SHARE IHLS libraries joining the Baker & Taylor Axis 360 (now Boundless) group.

The grant program ended in May 2015 but is sustained through the member fees that are assessed for participation. To date the eRead Illinois Boundless program serves over 900 libraries across Illinois.

The goals of the eRead Illinois program have given RAILS the opportunity to continue expanding access to e-content for Illinois residents.

Our initial research into exploring further opportunities to increase access led us to the conclusion that it is critical that libraries work across industries that serve the reader to expand the access to e-content for Illinois residents through partnership across the reading ecosystem. To our knowledge, many of the models for libraries to deliver e-content have not been developed or tested in collaboration with libraries. RAILS e-content strategy now focuses on building on the original eRead Illinois goals.

Vision for the Future

The vision is to position libraries as THE source for all types of quality e-content and RAILS as the lead in research, development and implementation of innovation in e-content delivery for libraries.

The Challenge

A Pew study stated that less than 40% of the public is aware that public libraries even have e-books.

There are a number of challenges that limit the public library's ability to make e-content available to the public.

  • One book/One user model creates long holds and waits for patrons
    Most libraries are limited to one user-one book checkout model of e-content for users requiring libraries to purchase multiple copies of titles which often are bought at high prices. This often creates long hold lists for titles in libraries with many users turning to retail to purchase the latest best sellers.
  • Platform issues
    Major e-content platform vendors have agreements with major publishers to sell e-content to libraries at higher prices because of the mistaken belief that libraries may have a chilling effect on retail sales because libraries are lending titles to patrons that they might have otherwise purchased.
    Many e-content platform vendors that offer access to major best sellers also charge very high prices for use of the platforms and limit or disallow the sharing of titles between libraries.
  • E-content issues
    E-content platform vendors often require libraries to use their marketplace to purchase e-content for use by patrons on their specific e-content platform.
    Libraries interested in identifying quality self-published content and making it available to their community are often required to use the one-book-one user model. This is the case even if the self-published author is willing to make the title available through simultaneous use with no holds for programs such as one book-one community or book club reads.
  • User experience with library platforms
    At times the user experience with library e-content platform for discovery and checkout of titles has multiple steps for the user. There is also confusion when the library has more than one e-content platform yet there appears to the patron to be no difference in the platforms. Furthermore, these platforms can vary greatly in user experience.


The reading ecosystem diagram represents the industries working to serve readers in a variety of ways. In an ideal ecosystem there would be more interaction between these industries to best serve the reader who is at the center of each group's work and shared by all.

There are three broad strategies for RAILS e-content activities:

  • Identify key issues that we share in better serving the reader
  • Create partnerships across the reading ecosystem to co-create models and strategies to deliver e-content through libraries that represent and meet the needs and goals of those in the reading ecosystem
  • Actively work with these partners to cultivate a nation of lifelong readers.

To achieve these goals RAILS is focusing on experimentation and innovation in key areas to improve and expand e-content reading opportunities for Illinois residents through collaboration with partners across the reading ecosystem.

The Future Is Multitype

RAILS is a multitype consortium committed to experimentation and innovation in e-content for all types of libraries.

However, the e-content landscape varies for academic, special and school libraries.

As the digital landscape and technology available changes almost daily, RAILS is committed to continuing to investigate, explore and amplify models that support access to quality e-content and resource sharing for Illinois libraries.

It's all about resource sharing.