May 19, 2022

Full Text: “E-Books in Libraries: A Briefing Document Developed in Preparation for a Workshop on E-Lending in Libraries”



David O’Brien
Harvard University – Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Urs Gasser
Harvard University – Berkman Center for Internet & Society; University of St. Gallen

John G. Palfrey Jr.
Harvard Law School


Berkman Center (via Social Science Research Network)


This briefing document was developed with helpful inputs from industry stakeholders and other practitioners in preparation for the “E-Books in Libraries” workshop, hosted on February 24, 2012, by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society with the generous support of the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

The “E-Books in Libraries” workshop was convened as part of a broader effort to explore current issues associated with digital publishing business models and access to digitally-published materials in libraries. Workshop attendees, including representatives from leading publishers, libraries, academia, and other industry experts, were invited to identify key challenges, share experiences, and prioritize areas for action. This document, which contains some updates reflecting new developments following the February workshop (up to June 2012), is intended to build on and continue that discussion with a broader audience, and encourage the development of next steps and concrete solutions.

Beginning with a brief overview of the history and the current state of the e-book publishing market, the document traces the structure of the licensing practices and business models used by distributors to make e-books available in libraries, and identifies select challenges facing libraries and publishers. Where possible, we have made an effort to incorporate stakeholder perspectives and real-world examples to connect analysis to the actual questions, issues, and challenges that arise in practice. The document concludes with a number of informative resources – including news articles, whitepapers, stakeholder and trade association reports, and other online sources – that might inform future conversations, investigations, pilot projects, and best practices in this space.

The topics presented in this briefing come at an important moment for the publishing industry, and in particular the e-book market, both of which have been rapidly evolving over the last several years. These changes are, in turn, affecting the models used by publishers’ horizontal and vertical business partners, such as libraries and distributors. While we have endeavored to provide accurate information within this document, the dynamic flux of the industry can make it difficult to accurately capture a comprehensive snapshot of its current state. For instance, during the course of our initial research we found that some information published as recently as September 2011 had already become outdated; other salient information is not made publicly available for competitive reasons. Please note that we consider this to be a working document, which we hope to develop further as information changes and the issues evolve.

Download the Full Text via SSRN

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.