The Huntington Public Library is among many around the country warning that a publisher’s new limits on library e-book purchases could make it harder to for readers to easily obtain the materials they want.
The new policy for libraries takes effect Nov.1. Macmillan Publishers decided in July that a library can purchase only one copy upon release of a new title in e-book format. The publisher will impose an eight-week embargo on additional copies of that title sold to libraries. The initial purchase comes at a discount. After the first eight weeks, libraries can purchase “expiring” e-book copies, which then need to be re-purchased after two years or 52 lends.
Local libraries participate in the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, which functions as a co-op on book sales, Huntington library director Joanne Adam said, meaning that only one Macmillan e-book can be purchased across the system for the first eight weeks.
“This puts us in a very difficult situation with the public,” Adam said. “We try to accommodate our patrons” wishes as best we can, and this action could make it impossible at times to get them what they want in a timely manner.”
The American Library Association has been critical of the MacMillan decision since it was announced.
“Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library e-book lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all,” said ALA President Wanda Brown. “Limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries.
“When a library serving many thousands has only a single copy of a new title in e-format, it’s the library – not the publisher – that feels the heat. It’s the local library that’s perceived as being unresponsive to community needs.
“Macmillan’s new policy is unacceptable,” said Brown. “ALA urges Macmillan to cancel the embargo.”
Adam and Head of Adult Reference, Thérèse Nielsen, said other publishers haven’t yet announced a similar policy.
Jessamyn West, a well-known librarian and free-speech advocate, wrote on CNN.com that, “With print materials, book economics are simple. Once a library buys a book, it can do whatever it wants with it: lend it, sell it, give it away, loan it to another library so they can lend it. We’re much more restricted when it comes to e-books. To a patron, an e-book and a print book feel like similar things, just in different formats; to a library they’re very different products. There’s no inter-library loan for e-books. When an e-book is no longer circulating, we can’t sell it at a book sale. When you’re spending the public’s money, these differences matter.”
The Huntington library’s Facebook page displays an American Library Association banner with the message “eBooks for All” across the top. And it adds, “Access to e-books from libraries helps to level the playing field and provides equal access to published work for all patrons, including the visually impaired, those with neurological disabilities, students, travelers, the economically disadvantaged and the whole world of readers looking for a good book.”