Fearing potentially crippling losses, publishers are withholding e-books from libraries, charging them more than other customers, or limiting how many times a library can lend an e-book. That bumps into librarians’ unwavering commitment to promote literacy, preserve culture, and make books available to people regardless of their financial situation.
Librarians rightly argue that they are spending dwindling public resources on e-books, so they should get a break. Part of their job is to help build a literate society, which is essential to a strong democracy. They also make a strong case that libraries generate business for publishers.
“We know book borrowers are also book buyers, and we find that e-book borrowers are also e-book buyers, and that pattern won’t change,” says Sari Feldman, cochair of the American Library Association’s e-book committee.
But publishers have a point, too, in wanting to protect their businesses and authors from losses. Unlike newspapers, which went to the Internet without a sustainable business model, book publishers are trying to figure out a way to protect themselves before leaping into cyberspace.
A compromise that could work is being pioneered by Harper Collins, which put a 26-loan cap on its e-books last year. Once an e-book is borrowed 26 times, a library must buy a new license. But Harper’s limited-use model doesn’t assist librarians in their roles as preservers of the culture. Imagine how scandalous it would be if the Free Library’s impressive collection of first-edition Charles Dickens’ novels were e-books with expired licenses?
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