Believe it or not, librarians love e-books. We like being able to tell students on campus or off that a book is immediately available to them. They don’t have to be reshelved or repaired. They don’t go missing.
Many of you have probably “borrowed” an e-book from your public library. Services such as Overdrive let users from many public libraries check out an e-book to read on their own mobile device (such as a Nook or iPad) for a set period of time. After the time is up the e-book expires- no need to physically return anything to the library.
E-book publishers have noticed that we love e-books, and they are trying to figure out ways they can increase their revenue. Harper Collins in particular recently decided to limit the circulation of its e-books to 26 lends. That means that after an e-book reaches the 26-loan limit it isn’t accessible to readers anymore and the library has to buy it again.
Why is this such a big problem for libraries? Many libraries rely on taxpayer money, tuition, and other public funding sources so they can purchase materials. These libraries have policies in place that require them to make fiscally sound decisions about what to buy. As an example, a hardback copy of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline costs about $8. You buy it once and that hardback will last a long, long time. What if you had to keep buying the book every year? That wouldn’t seem like nearly as good an investment, would it?
Libraries already struggle to make the most of budgets that are getting smaller or, at best, staying stagnant. Meanwhile, the prices of our materials (especially electronic resources) continue to rise. What are we to do? There is no easy answer.
The New York Times ran an article about the e-book debacle you can read here. You might also want to watch the video the Pioneer Library System made about the 26-lends rule. Librarian-bloggers like Kate Sheehan and Andy Woodworth have had a lot to say about it. Finally, you can read the American Library Association’s statement on e-book lending restrictions here.
What do you think about limiting the number of times libraries can lend an e-book?