Last week, I had the pleasure of participating in a statewide eBook symposium hosted by the Connecticut State Library and held at the University of Hartford. You will recall that the state of Connecticut passed a law last year mandating a study on library ebook lending. This report (PDF file) was issued on January 30, 2014, and so it was timely to assess the current status of library ebook lending in Connecticut and consider the various paths forward. The slides from the symposium are available online.
Michelle Seagull, Connecticut deputy commissioner of consumer protection, presented the well-received report to the more than 100 attendees. It does a good job of articulating many of the challenges—and, especially, the problems—created by the rise of licensing in the library ebook market. The recommendation that seemed to have the most traction is the creation of a statewide platform for library ebooks (and possibly other digital content), inspired by the work at Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries.
My presentation provided a national view of library ebook challenges through the lens, naturally, of ALA’s work during the past several years. While we saw good progress in 2013 (having come from the depths of despair in 2012), the present state of library ebook lending is nonetheless not good. I talked about high prices as the paramount problem, though there are many other ones, including lack of availability to libraries of the full range of ebook titles and lack of full access by library consortia. Additionally, we also have concerns relating to archiving and preservation, privacy, accommodations for people with disabilities, among others.
It is essential that we think bigger. The publishing model itself is evolving from a simple linear progression of author to reader to a complex set of relationships in which nearly any entity could relate to another directly. For example, authors can work with libraries directly, or publishers can take on distribution or retailing operations. The library community needs to be creative and innovative in contemplating the models that will work best for us and our users.
Also on hand to comprise the publisher panel were Skip Dye, vice president of library and academic sales at Random House and Adam Silverman, director of digital business development at HarperCollins. This session produced the most heat for the symposium, as a couple of Connecticut librarians pointedly criticized high prices for library ebooks. Through subsequent informal discussion, I got the sense that this dissatisfaction resonated with the other attendees.
Finally, the results of a number of ebook surveys were presented. Eric Hansen of the Connecticut State Library discussed three surveys whose results were incorporated into the state of Connecticut report. Mary Anne Mendola Franco of Wilton (Conn.) Library Association, Inc., provided a summary of the Connecticut Ebook Task Force Ebook Survey, (PDF file) which was also cited in the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection’s Report. Respondents’ critique of the current state of ebook affairs included:
- Limited titles available (70%);
- Long wait times (64%);
- Popular titles not available (61%);
- Complex downloading process (47%);
- Users unaware of ebook availability at library (44%).
I thank Ernie DiMattia, chair, Connecticut Ebook Task Force (and president of the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut), Connecticut State Librarian Ken Wiggin, and their committee members and staffs for the kind invitation and hospitality. I enjoyed my interaction with Connecticut librarians, and appreciated the opportunity to meet ALA Chapter Councilor Carl Antonucci. I even got to see a bit of Hartford, stopping at the Hartford Public Library and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art just next door. I hope to return again soon—though preferably during a warmer time of the year; it was cold!
ALAN S. INOUYE is director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and program manager of ALA’s Digital Content Initiative.