Did you ever wonder why it takes sooooooo long to get the new Nora Roberts ebook from the library?
The Council Bluffs Public Library has embraced technology to remain relevant and vital to the community we serve, offering popular materials in convenient digital formats. Today, 25% of our book checkouts happen remotely, with the library delivering e-books and e-audiobooks straight to apps on patron’s phones and computers.
While checkouts of physical books remain strong, demand for digital formats grows year after year. Our public library has become an integral part of the lives of thousands of people in the community, and it is easy to take for granted one of our core principles: equitable access for all. But recent moves by publishing companies are a threat to that principle, jeopardizing access to the electronic resources our community wants and needs.
You may not know this, but public libraries are required to buy e-books at prices four or more times higher than consumer prices, and we buy multiple copies at these inflated prices to meet customer demand. The publishers who set these high prices also place severe restrictions on how the materials are used. Unlike physical books, library e-books “expire,” forcing the library to repurchase an e-book every couple of years.
The Council Bluffs Public Library exists to meet the evolving information and literacy needs of the community. To do this, we have shown a willingness to compromise and to work with publishers. For over a decade, the Council Bluffs library has purchased thousands of e-books from these publishers, and accepted these restrictive terms in order to meet demand.
But new draconian restrictions announced by Macmillan and other publishers are explicitly designed to undermine the public library system. These new schemes place embargo periods on new materials and limit libraries to purchasing one copy of each title, leading to endless wait times.
Macmillan Publishers (the worst offender), arguing that library lending is negatively impacting their digital sales, now only sells one copy of each title to a library, regardless of the size of the community the library serves. This misguided new policy is meant to make the library experience unpleasant for consumers in hopes it will translate to more direct sales.
But Macmillan has it wrong. Far from being the enemy, the public library system supports these publishers by buying their materials, by growing awareness of authors, by providing access to back catalogs, and by raising overall literacy.
Millions of life-long readers came to become life-long readers because of their local public libraries. The efforts of these publishers to undermine that library system is ultimately a suicidal act; one that will diminish reading and literacy across the nation. Public libraries allow customers to explore new genres and authors, exposing them to new books they may never have read.
Librarians suggest new titles, we organize author visits, and we market new books. Public libraries are the best marketing tool these publishers have! Across the nation, we provide these services for no cost to the publishers, even as we buy their books at highly inflated prices.
Today, the threat to equitable e-book access is the most pressing challenge facing libraries, readers, authors, and everyone in the reading ecosystem. Hindering library access will grow the literacy gap and technology gap between the rich and poor, making reading a luxury for the rich instead of an equitable opportunity for all.
While many publishers are trying to dismantle the public library system, the biggest offender is Macmillan. But the dangerous precedent set by Macmillan can be reversed. To all of our library users in the community, I ask you to consider a world without equitable access to e-books, and to engage in a productive dialogue with Macmillan to reverse course before the public library system is irreparably harmed. Together we can encourage Macmillan and its peers to engage with libraries with fairness and respect. If you would like to help, please visit ebooksforall.org and get on social media to demand #eBooksForAll.
The Council Bluffs Public Library opened in 1885 to provide free access to all. With your help, we can keep the promise of equitable access going for another 134 years. With our help, we can continue to enrich, inform, and empower the community of Council Bluffs in the digital age.