At a time when libraries and publishers are clashing over the ability to lend e-books, Brain Hive, a Minneapolis-based firm, is offering an alternative. Brain Hive is an on-demand pay-as-go e-book lending service offering K-12 schools online access to a library of digital titles. Membership in the service is free, titles are available immediately and libraries and schools are charged $1 for each e-book circulated.

The service offers a collection of about 3,000 e-book titles including fiction, nonfiction and graphic novels aimed at the K-12 education market. The service includes titles from major publishers including Random House Children's Books, Charlesbridge Publishing, Lerner Publishing, Lee & Low Books, Gecko Press, Open Road Integrated Media and others.

Institutions sign on for a free membership and the service allows school or library administrators to set a budget figure for the account. Institutions are charged $1 for each title checked out until the budget limit is reached. Brain Hive members have access to an account with a variety of data including most circulated titles and genres, time spent reading, pie-charts on budget status; librarians can create customized collections. The service also offers assemment tools, quizzes, teaching resources as well as activities that can be printed out.

Brain Hive v-p Terri Soutor said that unlike public library e-book lending, which treats e-books like physical books, Brain Hive offers “unlimited access to the e-book collection, meaning multiple students and teachers can have the same title checked out at the same time. No holds. No waiting.”

Soutor said the on-demand system also offers safeguards to prevent going over budget, “Members have the option to adjust the budget at any time,” she said, “and the account administrator is alerted when they hit 75% of their budget so they can take action if desired. There is also a dashboard on the home page for easy monitoring of budget vs. usage.” And if an institution does hit its ceiling, Soutor said, e-books already on loan remain readable, but new checkouts are unavailable. Kids trying to check a book out will get a “friendly” message telling them to check with their librarian.

She also said that titles from Macmillan and S&S, publishers that do not allow their books to be circulated as e-books through libraries, are not available through the service. “We are in negotiations with a number of mid-size and Big Six publishers and expect to continue adding publishers throughout the year, We are thrilled that Random House joined as this is the first school library e-book platform with their titles included.”

Brain Hive is a new company launched by the Lerner Publishing Group and shares Lerner’s executive and ownership structure. Brain Hive services are similar to Comics Plus: Library Edition, also a pay-as-you-go e-book lending service for graphic novels launched this summer by digital distributor Iverse Media. Brain Hive is browser-based and supports Mac, PC and Android devices; the company is developing a downloadable Brain Hive e-Reader app.

Asked if the service is a response to the on-going conflict between publishers and libraries over lending e-books, Souter said, “The conflict between publishers and libraries is primarily occurring in the public library space. We specifically designed Brain Hive as a service for schools and believe it’s a great alternative for schools with limited budgets that are just beginning to introduce e-books to students and teachers. It’s an easy and affordable model that specifically meets the needs for digital content in an educational setting.”