ALA task force calls for change in library e-book market

In a new article, the American Library Association Joint Digital Content Working Group offered a candid assessment of the state of the library e-book market and assessed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which demand for digital content in libraries has increased.

“Libraries are grappling with an extraordinary demand for both digital content and services – two costly program areas – which will add to the pressure on already meager budgets,” the report said. The Need for Change: A Position Paper on Electronic Lending, States. “This disruption has highlighted the importance of digital media and thus underscored an issue that libraries have been raising for years: that certain digital pricing and business models unreasonably hinder and sometimes completely block access for them. library users. “

Among the report’s key findings: The pandemic has highlighted what librarians see as a fundamental injustice in today’s digital library market. Unlike printed books, where the library’s right to buy and lend books is protected by copyright law, basic access to eBooks and digital content is subject to higher prices. and restrictive license conditions set unilaterally by the publishers. The result: digital readers “who depend most on libraries – often poor or otherwise marginalized groups – are particularly disadvantaged.”

The report covers trends in public, school and university libraries, and comes as librarians begin to grapple with their post-pandemic future – a future in which digital demand will almost certainly remain high after the pandemic, and in which library budgets are expected. to be stressed. While the report recognizes publishers who offered price reductions and more flexible license terms during the pandemic, it concludes, a return to the pre-pandemic situation is simply not achievable.

“Libraries will face a necessary rebalancing of physical and digital resources as many of the publishers’ temporary financial housing will not survive or have already expired,” the report says. “If libraries cannot find ways to make digital collections robust, affordable and sustainable, including an optional return to perpetual access, they will never be able to meet the ever-increasing demand for and provide equitable access to the communities they serve. “

Those who depend most on libraries – often poor or otherwise marginalized groups – are particularly disadvantaged …

Specifically, the report renews calls for publishers to offer more flexibility in licensing, including a perpetual access option, something librarians have been asking for for years. More generally, he urges publishers to reassess their overall approach to the market after a year in which sales of commercial books have increased alongside the circulation of e-books in libraries.

“We recognize that many works exist in a commercial setting, and we recognize the need of creators and publishers for fair compensation,” the report says. “We applaud some publishers for embracing some flexible models and sometimes reduced prices during the pandemic, especially as these changes show that some of the conditions we are looking for are possible in the long run. But publishers should recognize the value and support the role of libraries in civil society and honor those roles as we move into the digital age.

While there is little new to the report in terms of what the library community says it needs in the digital marketplace, the pandemic has clearly changed the environment, the report suggests, and raised the stakes for libraries.

“Now is the time for libraries of all types and the funding agencies that support them to call on publishers to increase and improve access to exciting new electronic content for our customers,” the report concludes. “As a united group of public service institutions, libraries must ask publishing leaders to join with us in creating a model that calls for open accessibility and fairness not just every now and then and not only for certain people, but also for everyone, all the time, in all conditions, in any market, as a matter of industry practice.

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