January 25, 2022

Connecticut’s Dept. of Consumer Protections Releases Report on Availability of Ebooks in Public Libraries

UPDATE: We’ve asked both the ALA and the Connecticut Library Association if they care to comment on the report. If they do we will update this post.

The report comes after a “special act” was signed into law by Governor Daniel Malloy last June calling for the Connecticut Dept. of Consumer Protection ebook/library issues.

Here’s what Special Act No. 13-10 called for.

From An Act Concerning a Study Regarding the Availability of Electronic Books to Users of Public Libraries” Special Act No. 13-10)

Within available appropriations, the Commissioner of Consumer Protection, in consultation with the State Librarian and the Attorney General, shall conduct a study regarding the availability of electronic books to users of public libraries in this state. When conducting the study, said commissioner shall consider information provided by interested third parties, including, but not limited to, authors, representatives of public libraries, book publishers and third-party electronic book distributors.

(b) The study conducted pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall include, but not be limited to, (1) a survey of whether and how book publishers and third-party electronic book distributors sell, license or otherwise make electronic books available to users of public libraries in this state, (2) what problems, if any, exist with current practices regarding the availability of electronic books to users of public libraries in this state, and (3) recommendations to increase the availability of electronic books to users of public libraries in this state.

The report that Special Act No. 13-10 called for was released at the end of last month and is now available online (21 pages; PDF).

The full text report is also embedded at the bottom of this post.

The Report is Organized Into Three Sections:

  • Whether and How Electronic Books are Made Available to Public Libraries
    • Includes Section on Legal Distinction Between Physical Book Sales And E-Book Acquisitions
  • Problems with Current Practices
  • Recommendations to Increase Availability of Electronic Books to Library Users

Our Notes/Comments on Selected Passages From the Report

  • There is nothing in the report about ebook borrowing and reader privacy. Surprising especially given recent events.
  • There is very little in the report about distributors, pricing, competition, etc.
  • While it’s true that not everyone will want to or be able to (financial concerns) subscribe to a service providing access to unlimited amounts of ebook content the report makes no mention about what these services might mean for public libraries in the long term. In other words, will there be a need to provide “popular” titles in the first place? Again, while providing access to those who cannot afford material is a must and cannot be overlooked, we’re beginning to see unlimited amounts of content for free. For example, the music service Spotify now offers unlimited access to their entire collection of music for free via a computer or tablet. 

What Does The Report Recommend For Consideration?

Recommendation From the Report: “Investing in a State run e-book distribution platform [Douglas County, CO is mentioned] so as to provide the State’s libraries with greater flexibility in acquiring and managing their e-content and increased negotiating power when dealing with publishers or other owners of e-content”

The report states:

As a result of those efforts, the [Douglas County, CO] library system is able to offer tens of thousands of e-books that are offered by small publishing companies.

Regardless where the material comes from small publishing companies or self-publishers the report doesn’t mention if these books are being circulated or even discovered.

The report does not point out that Colorado is now developing a statewide ebook pilot.

Recommendation From the Report: “Exploring mechanisms to increase the availability of funds to State libraries to address the added expenses of maintaining an adequate e-book collection”

The advantages to increasing library funding ear-marked for e-book access are straight-forward.

Libraries serve an important public function so providing more funding to libraries will increase their ability to serve that function in a critical and emerging area, particularly at a time when the need is growing but budgets are otherwise remaining static. The disadvantage is the obvious opportunity cost involved in providing more funds to one institution as any such funding would come from somewhere else, which would involve a shift in spending priorities.

We have considered an alternative that would create a special fund for the purchase of e-books that would be funded by an assessment on book publishers, from which they could be exempt if they made their e-books available to libraries on reasonable terms. This alternative is appealing because libraries would get either reasonable economic access from publishers or funds with which to purchase more content. As a practical matter, however, imposing an assessment specific to publishers, would invite serious legal challenges under the First Amendment.

There is no discussion about the sustainability of increased funding specifically for ebooks and what it might mean for a library in the long term.

We love the idea of a state increasing funding for libraries but would an increase in funding earmarked specifically for a specific type/format of content mean for other library collections and programs both in the short and long term?

Recommendation From the Report: “Taking a “wait-and-see” approach as current trends suggest that increased e-book availability”

There can be little doubt that e-books are becoming an essential part of any modern library collection. Currently, however, the situation is not so imminently dire that immediate action is necessarily required.

Furthermore, library budgets are not currently being overwhelmed by e-book purchases.

According to a national survey, as of November 2012, only 31% of the public was aware that e-books could be borrowed from the library.

Ultimately, if the benefits of library lending truly outweigh the risk of lost sales, publishers can be expected to accommodate the
libraries in a way that serves both their interests.

Importantly, a wait and see approach should not be viewed as an excuse to do nothing. If, after a period of time, the market settles on an equilibrium that results in e-books being literally or economically unavailable to libraries, legislative action should be considered. At that time, the results of current publisher experimentation will be better understood and the impact of limited e-book availability on library patrons will be more pronounced. As a result, a more comprehensive assessment of the economic and public policy implications of limited e-book availability at libraries will be possible and any a appropriate regulatory solution can be developed with more confidence that it will be tailored and effective.

If overall ebook usage continues to grow AND more people begin using libraries as a place to access this material will libraries be able to afford these services? What will happen to wait times? Will the amount of funding needed to maintain and grow library ebook collections increase faster than the money available? What will it mean for other library services?

Note: The “wait and see” approach is also what we recently heard after a bill re: ebooks/libraries was recently introduced in the Maryland General Assembly. 

Connecticut: Report to the General Assembly’s General Law Committee pursuant to Special Act 13-10, “An Act Concerning a Study Regarding the Availability of Electronic Books to Users of Public Libraries”

See Also: Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly Discusses the Report in this CCC “Beyond the Book” Podcast

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) 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 Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.