Yesterday, Sara O’Connor and I were lucky enough to be invited to attend an eBooks Summit at the House of Commons, organized by CILIP and hosted by the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group, to hear the debates and discussions around ebook lending in libraries.
Here was our view on the way in, not your average view when going to a meeting!
The summit was chaired by Justin Tomlinson, MP and Chair of the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) who hosted a panel of names within the publishing and library industry. They were:
- Richard Mollet, Chief Executive of The Publishers Association
- Steve Potash, Chief Executive of Overdrive (global distributor of ebooks)
- Olivia Cole, Literary Editor of GQ, Editor of Spectator Life, poet and contributor to The Standard
- Christopher Platt, Director of Collections and Circulation Operations at the New York Public Library
This summit was held alongside and to, hopefully, feed into the ebook lending review and task force announced by Ed Vaizey earlier this year and the packed house featured publishers and industry professionals all there to discuss the issues around e-lending.
You don’t need me to tell you that it is a very complicated debate, with pluses and minuses on both sides. There are many, many libraries in the UK who are already offering ebook lending via their websites, some for free, some paid for, and many more that are planning to. It seems the US are way ahead of us though – I was interested to hear that New York Public Libraries have been offering downloadable ebooks since 2004!
However to give you an idea of the depth of the discussions going on currently, here is a snapshot of some of the questions asked and concerns surrounding e-lending currently:
- One main worry is if ebooks can be borrowed for free via libraries websites, how do we keep and use the physical library space, and continue to make it an active part of the community?
- Should there be a small charge for loaning ebooks from your local library? For instance, if you knew that money was going back to the author and also helping the library to pay for the infrastructure of the digital service, would you pay? (See next point)
- Currently, there is no PLR on ebooks for authors (PLR is ‘Public Lending Right’ which is a small payment paid by the government to authors based on how many people borrow the book), so at the moment authors only get remunerated for physical loans.
- Should frontlist ebooks be only available to borrow 6 months after they go on sale (like DVDs)?
- Should there be a national scheme for ebook lending, so each local authority doesn’t have to make individual decisions on which software and model to offer, and pay for its set up?
- How are we going about training our librarians on the library floor to know and use new technologies, and feel confident with them? (this was my question!)
- Should the device manufacturers be more involved with helping libraries train their staff and display their devices?
- And mostly – who will pay for all this new infrastructure?
So, a lot of questions and concerns as you can see and there was much debate, and varying opinions surrounding them all. But there were lots of positive things too!
I was really interested to hear from New York Public Library who argued strongly that enabling ebook lending has been a huge discovery tool to introduce new readers to the library. Many people who hadn’t used their library in years, or were never members, joined up to borrow ebooks. They have huge website traffic (over 30m users a year!) and many people use the site really just to browse. They see their online home as a real alternative to online retailers, as they also offer an option to buy the book if you don’t want to loan it.
Overdrive were very clear on the fact that their system only ever offers one ebook loan, per person, per time, authenticated by a valid library card – just the same as the physical lending system – so a library still has to buy multiple copies of an ebook if they want to lend it to multiple people at the same time.
One person in the audience mentioned how much of a lifeline ebooks have been for partially sighted members of society, and how free lending of ebook will make a huge difference to them, and give them more access to more titles. There was a plea to make sure the text-to-speech function is always enabled by publishers, so the book can be read aloud.
Apparently academic libraries are already far ahead of public libraries in terms of digital – should there be more skill sharing between those institutions?
Libraries also have a HUGE amount of data about reading habits, and digital reading makes this even easier to track. How far people have got through a book, how long it’s taken them to read – all this information is available to publishers if you sign up for e-lending.
Anyway – the session was really animated and fascinating for all of us in the audience, and I hope the discussions get carried forward to the parliamentary eBook review. Obviously it’s an issue that needs more thought and guidance – and all involved agreed that there is a strong need for UK-based research on the issues – but in the meantime I’d be interested to know your thoughts on it – does your local library offer ebooks to loan? Would you / do you use them? What do you think about paying for that service? Would you only ever loan physical books from a library? Answers on a postcard. (Or, actually, in the comments below).
OH, and thanks to Rebecca Jenkins (@RebekahBooks) we legally obtained (i.e. bought) a House of Commons pen (in lovely green bag), which we’re happy to give away to one lucky commenter! Just have your say below to win this lovely thing: