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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Libraries and the E-Book Dilemma: Part II

When HarperCollins announced last month that it would limit the number of times e-books sold to libraries could be checked out, some in the library profession were outraged (see March 9 post below). A piece this week on National Public Radio (“The Future of Books in the E-Book Age,” April 4, 2011) offers a more nuanced approach to the controversy.

"The HarperCollins limit isn't going to stick," argues Christopher Platt, director of collections and circulation in at the New York Public Library. "It's going to develop into something new. And Harper, to its credit, is engaged with libraries to see what would work."

Platt, according to the NPR piece, offers one solution – a subscription model. Since libraries use intermediary vendors to buy their books, he believes libraries and vendors could develop subscription packages with publishers.

“So I'd buy a title with 1,000 uses, and then it's up to us and our readers whether those 1,000 uses get used simultaneously in the first few days or whether they get drawn out over time," Platt says. "And then if they do get used quickly, we'll buy more."

Another more visionary scenario is offered by Eli Neiburger, the director for IT and production at the Ann Arbor District library. He thinks libraries might want to deal directly with authors or the holder of the rights to e-books.

"The goal of the library is to obtain the ability to distribute content to its public. And if we can do that easier and more cheaply with the rights holder or the artist themselves and they make more money on it, then it may be heretical — but the future usually is," Neiburger says in the NPR piece.

Whatever the future of e-books offered by libraries, Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association, told NPR she would like to see more publishing companies involved in the discussion, since some do not even offer their titles to libraries.

"When we look at the future then we have to really think very seriously about what is our role — and how can we actually serve the millions and millions of people who use our public libraries everyday if we can't even get access to titles," says Stevens.

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