American Library Association (ALA) has just released its 2011 Public Library Funding and Technology Access Survey, and among its findings, 67% of public libraries in the U.S. now offer free access to e-books for their patrons. That's up 30% since 2007. Of course, access to e-books ranges greatly from state-to-state: 100% of Maryland and Utah libraries offer e-books, while only 25% of ilbraries in Mississippi do so, for example.The
But even in the states where e-book access is commonplace, when it comes to making digital literature available to their patrons, libraries face a number of challenges. We've covered many of these issues here. Most well-known among these obstacles was the controversial announcement earlier this year by publisher Harper Collins to have library e-books "self-destruct" after 26 checkouts, forcing libraries to re-purchase titles in order to secure more checkouts. This among other factors (including, of course, budget issues) has made the future of e-books in libraries unclear.
We've seen a lot of evidence for the increase in demand for e-books in the consumer sector, and it appears that finally, after some reluctance on the part of publishers, we may be seeing some move to help fulfill that same demand with library lending. One major win was the announcement earlier this year that Amazon would launch a lending library; another more recently was that OverDrive, a major e-book provider to libraries, would become platform agnostic and offer some titles DRM-free.
A number of announcements made during the ALA's annual convention this past week suggest that the tipping point of e-book library lending may be here:
- "Always Available" E-Books: In order to address the problem with wait lists for checking out e-books, OverDrive announced a set of "Always Available" titles so that multiple library patrons could check out titles simultaneously. Although digital texts do make it possible to distribute multiple copies this week, in most cases, up until now, lending of e-books has followed the same restrictions of print. In other words, if a book is checked out - whether it's print or digital - no one else can read it. OverDrive's "Always Available" books do not include all its titles, but it's a sensible start.
- Magazine Checkouts: Digital newsstand Zinio announced it has partnered with Recorded Books to allow digital magazines to be available to library patrons in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K.
- Library Checkouts for Nook: Library lending comes to the Barnes & Noble Nook with a partnership between the bookseller and digital distributor Baker & Taylor.
- The Open Library Serves More Public Libraries: The Internet Archive announced that it has expanded its OpenLibrary lending program to its 1000th library. This program allows libraries to pool and share their e-books.
There have been fears on the part of many librarians that the move to digital content would harm libraries - not because of any problem with the digital format per se, but rather that some of the restrictions on their access to materials and to lending would be too onerous. However it appears as though there are a number of new pricing models for libraries and a number of lending alternatives. Patrons clearly want to borrow and read e-books, and most libraries are in the process of developing programs to make that possible.