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Library eBook developments

Wed, 19 Sep 2012

It is expected that the DCMS will shortly convene a cross-industry task force to address the issue of the lending of e-books from public libraries. CILIP has requested membership and has produced two briefing papers in order to develop its understanding of the current position. The longer paper is entitled “E-book acquisition and lending briefing: public, academic and research libraries.” This sets out the legal, strategic and technical problems which arise from the addition of e-books to library collections and some possible solutions to these problems. It differentiates between the scholarly publishers who primarily serve academic and research libraries and the trade publishers who serve the general public and public libraries with their different approaches which lead to different challenges for the academic/research and public library sectors.

The paper provides a definition of an e-book; sets out a brief history of e-books; the different e-book business models; details of e-book suppliers and survey data on e-book usage. It then sets out some key issues and challenges for libraries such as copyright issues and the threat to exceptions; the loss of control over collection management and development; the potential risk to reader privacy; the future of inter-library lending; preservation and technical issues including accessibility for print disabled people. It addresses the position of the six major publishers who are refusing to allow public libraries to purchase their e-books; the Publishers Association position; the recent SCL position statement; the threat to the principle of free access to reading and offers possible solutions to these problems. An appendix sets out details of the different business models currently available.

This is an extremely useful and timely document and CILIP is requesting feedback by 14 September in order to ensure that it is fully up to date. The introductory blog posting concludes “As I said at the outset, e-books are very popular and demand is growing. This blog is about the challenges, but e-books present many opportunities for libraries and library users too, of course. Overall digital texts improve accessibility for many print disabled people, for example, something I’m sure we all welcome.” That unprompted statement from my professional body is very welcome.

The UK is something like 12 months behind the USA in terms of digital developments and the American Library Association has been addressing these issues for some time. On 8 August, Publishers Weekly reported the ALA’s latest move which is to publish “E-book business models for libraries”. This states that “No single business model will offer best terms for all libraries or be adopted by all publishers and distributors.” It sets out what libraries should look for and avoid. It advises “It is therefore important that libraries negotiate aggressively for the most favourable and flexible terms possible.”

For the ALA the essential features of any deal are;

  • All books available for sale to the public should also be available to libraries for lending
  • Libraries should have an option to effectively own the e-books they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely
  • Publishers and distributors should provide metadata and management tools to enhance the discovery of e-books.

The ALA has never been scared to stand up to government and others in defence of the basic principles and values of librarianship and it will be interesting to see if they can overcome the publishers in this fundamental issue in the longer term.

The potential of e-books to transform access to content for blind and partially sighted people in the UK is set out in Helen Brazier’s presentation, “Invitation to the feast: developing accessible e-book services in UK public libraries”, to the session of the Libraries Serving Persons with Print Disabilities Section at the IFLA World Library and Information Congress in Helsinki on 13 August. The session and comprised four presentations of which only Helen’s had been posted on the IFLA website by 17 August.

Author: David Owen for Share the Vision

An Amazon Kindle eBook reader

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