According to the announcement, the goal of the pilot is to conduct research into the impact of ebook lending in public libraries on authors, publishers and on the library service. The Publisher's Association says that they want to find "a suitable and sustainable model for all stakeholders".
Four libraries in the UK will be participating in the pilot, including Vivacity Peterborough, Newcastle, Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (a suburb of London), and Derbyshire. The libraries will have access to a selection of titles which not currently available to libraries in the UK.
The pilot, which will be funded by a generous £40,000 grant from the British Library Trust, will offer a thousand titles in total, including new releases that will be phased in over the course of the year. Library patrons will be able to take part in the pilot by checking out ebooks, just like they check out a libraries existing collection. The ebooks will be loaned for either 7 days or 3 weeks.
I must say that I was startled to read about this pilot earlier this week. I follow UK book news almost as closely as the similar news from the US, and over the past year pretty much the only times I have read about UK libraries is when they are under threat of closure. Much of the UK is facing a govt budget crunch just like what US cities and states are going through, and it's not uncommon for someone to have the bright idea that libraries aren't essential.
Update (6 March 2014): On the other hand, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. New details have come to light which explain why this pilot is necessary. According to one source, only 3 of the 6 major ebook publishers in the UK sell ebooks to libraries (HarperCollins, Random House and Hachette).
Research conducted in February 2013 by Shelf Free, an independent group set up and led by librarians to raise awareness of the opportunities and issues around e-books in public libraries, found that 85% of ebooks were not available to public libraries.
Out of the top 50 most borrowed adult fiction books of 2012, only 7 were made available by publishers for libraries to e-lend – and even then it depended on which supplier the library service was signed up to. With one supplier, only two titles were available.
images by stevecadman