In an American Libraries article published today, Alan S. Inouye, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy, reported on his participation in the Connecticut State Library’s Ebook Symposium, a one-day event where library and publishing experts explored the current state of ebook affairs and the future of ebook lending for libraries, publishers, and readers.
As a presenter at the statewide ebook conference, Inouye discussed the large number of challenges faced by libraries working to meet patron demands for ebooks, including concerns related to fair pricing, equitable access to ebook titles, digital preservation, privacy, digital rights management and accommodations for readers with limited vision.
My presentation provided a national view of library ebook challenges through the lens, naturally, of ALA’s work during the past several years. While we saw good progress in 2013 (having come from the depths of despair in 2012), the present state of library ebook lending is nonetheless not good. I talked about high prices as the paramount problem, though there are many other ones, including lack of availability to libraries of the full range of ebook titles and lack of full access by library consortia. Additionally, we also have concerns relating to archiving and preservation, privacy, accommodations for people with disabilities, among others.
It is essential that we think bigger. The publishing model itself is evolving from a simple linear progression of author to reader to a complex set of relationships in which nearly any entity could relate to another directly. For example, authors can work with libraries directly, or publishers can take on distribution or retailing operations. The library community needs to be creative and innovative in contemplating the models that will work best for us and our users.
Also on hand to comprise the publisher panel were Skip Dye, vice president of library and academic sales at Random House and Adam Silverman, director of digital business development at HarperCollins. This session produced the most heat for the symposium, as a couple of Connecticut librarians pointedly criticized high prices for library ebooks. Through subsequent informal discussion, I got the sense that this dissatisfaction resonated with the other attendees.