As libraries cope with stagnant or decreased budgets, the recent decision by publisher HarperCollins to restrict the lending of e-books to a limited number of circulations per copy threatens libraries’ ability to provide their users with access to information.
“Libraries have a long history of providing access to knowledge, information and the creative written works of authors,” said American Library Association (ALA) President Roberta Stevens. “We are committed to equal and free access for the millions of people who depend on their library’s resources every day. While demand has surged, financial support has decreased. The announcement, at a time when libraries are struggling to remain open and staffed, is of grave concern. This new limitation means that fewer people will have access to an increasingly important format for delivering information.”
Data collected by the ALA shows that libraries are responsive to the needs of their users. Nationwide, 66 percent of public libraries report offering free access to e-books to library users - up from 38 percent three years ago.
Stevens continued “Crafting 21st century solutions for equitable access to information while ensuring authors and publishers have a fair return on their investments is our common goal. The transition to the e-book format should not result in less availability.
“The marketplace for e-books is changing rapidly. We encourage publishers to look to libraries as a vehicle to reach and grow diverse audiences.”
Libraries have proven to be powerful marketing tools for e-books. According to a white paper produced by library e-book distributor OverDrive, Penguin’s runaway hit, "Eat, Pray, Love" (Viking), was published in February 2006 with an initial run of 30,000 hardcover copies. The title didn’t become a bestseller until March 2007. In the meantime, copies of "Eat, Pray, Love" changed hands thousands of times through book clubs and libraries, scoring rave reviews and stirring up chatter among leading library blogs. Thanks to word-of-mouth marketing and library lending, when the paperback hit newsstands, "Eat, Pray, Love" sales skyrocketed.
The Equitable Access to Electronic Information Task Force (EQUACC) and the ALA will soon launch a website dedicated to developing a model for e-book lending. The website will offer visitors the opportunity to provide their ideas and comments.
The American Library Association is the voice of America's libraries and the millions of people who depend on them. With more than 63,000 members, the ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world and represents all types of libraries and library staff.