eBooks and eReaders are exciting technologies that enable you to get your hands on that new bestseller at the speed of light. You can enlarge the typeface, bookmark your favorite parts, take notes, and also store or access from the cloud thousands of other titles with just one small, portable device. That’s great!! And now you’ve found out that your public library has free e-books! Life doesn’t get any better, does it?
Well, unfortunately, there’s going to be a little rain on this parade. You see, of the Big Six publishers, only Random House is currently allowing unrestricted sales of their e-titles to public libraries. And they just raised their prices significantly. Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan will not sell to public libraries at all. Penguin recently ceased sales to libraries (and is even considering cutting off access to titles already purchased), and Harper Collins sells their titles with a 26-use licensing restriction.
Compound that problem with the fact that many people received eReaders and tablets for the holidays. You’ll notice limited availability of the electronic books in our Digital Download Center  as demand has skyrocketed in these last few months. These digital titles that we buy through the distributor Overdrive are treated just like physical books; when one customer has a title checked out, it is unavailable to another until the lending period is over (the maximum period is three weeks). This is digital rights management (DRM) at work. Understandably, the publishers want this control on their copyright. They do not want what happened to the music industry to happen to them. However, they are so far unable to come up with a distribution model that meshes with the public library’s practice of first-sale and our desire to ensure that all citizens have access to reading materials, especially those that cannot afford to buy them.
We don’t want to regress to the days of long ago when only those who could afford to read had that privilege. We believe in the public library system and its mission of supporting an educated, enlightened, and informed citizenry. Part of that mission involves maintaining access for all. If only everyone could witness the international visitors to our library as they marvel at the availability of information and culture in our books, audiovisual materials, and on our internet stations. You would understand and appreciate in an instant this unique, democratic privilege of ours. This privilege is under serious threat as the availability of print begins to shrink, publishers continue to refuse to sell to libraries and purchasing (actually leasing) a book electronically becomes the only option for individuals.
We are continually seeking solutions to this 21st century problem. New providers of ebooks and different models of distribution are on the horizon, and we are exploring these alternatives. We are hopeful that publishers appreciate the role the public library has played in “growing” the readers (the people kind) that buy their books and that they will work with us so that we may continue to promote literacy, encourage lifelong learning, and ensure access to vital information so necessary to sustain our democratic society.