Friday, 22 February 2013

International perspectives on e-books in libraries

A gathering of over 80 international delegates met in London to discuss the current barriers, challenges and some of the successes in integrating e-books in library services from around the world. There was much common experience, but also a few surprises along the way. Karen Gibbins, Chair of CILIP Cymru Wales and I were fortunate to attend the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) seminar in London on 21 February 2013 organised in partnership with CILIP. This is potted summary of key points as they struck me, from a very full, information rich and stimulating day.

IFLA Ebooks - some of the speakers.
(L-R: Yasuko Inoue, Michael Dowling, Chloe Vincente de Billion, Klaus-Peter Bottger)

E-Books in Libraries: a global question of survival?

Phil Bradley opened the Seminar by challenging delegates to see e-books as an opportunity. Libraries and librarians have endured across time, and will do so into the future. We have power. The power to find information using technologies  and resources that are available to us (books, online, eBooks).  Other professionals come to us for our expertise, and e-books provide opportunities for us to expand our horizons.

The Challenges?

Adapting to change. Too many libraries have already met their downfall. Will libraries become merely museums of books, or will they embrace challenges in order to become vibrant organisations providing different offers to all of their users? The pace of change is significant.  eBook markets are still very fluid and evolving.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change” Charles Darwin
 Stance of Publishers? Business models and pricing. Will publishers arrive at suitable business models that address the very different needs of the markets for printed books and for eBooks?  Are publishers / aggregators  and the large online players (e.g. Amazon) forcing the return to an online equivalent of the subscription library?
Stance of Publishers? Piracy and Intellectual Property Law. “Many publishers view library provision of eBooks as a direct threat to their and their authors’ economic interests, and they therefore withhold library sales of [eBook] titles”[i]. Libraries have been branded as government sponsored outlets for piracy [ii]and of being “cannibals” to the publishing industry. African publishers are reluctant to develop eBooks because of fears over extensive piracy.
Stance of Publishers? Timeliness / Availability. Publishers currently withhold or embargo eBook titles for supply to libraries.
“It appears that at the moment the collection building policy may be decided by the publishers and not by the library, which could mean a threat to access to information, and by extension to democracy”[iii].
Stance of Publishers? Libraries are without rights (with respect to eBooks). The terms and conditions of usage are determined by the publishers in licensing, and are affected by intellectual property laws. Where present, laws providing statutory frameworks for public libraries may be dated, and offer no levers for the acquisition, dissemination, long term storage and preservation of eBooks and online content. Libraries respect and advocate for intellectual property law but wish for current exceptions for hard copy formats to be extended to eBooks (e.g. long-term preservation, provision in formats suitable for people with disabilities, rights to lend). Digital deposit legislation may assist here.
Public Awareness. Library users / members of the public are not aware that eBooks may be available to borrow from libraries. Those members who are aware, but find our eBook collections inadequate, probably don’t understand that this is because of publisher restrictions / pricing.
Technology / Affordability. Many areas of the world still have inadequate access to technology and network capability, and / or this may be beyond the financial reach of all. However, budget tablet / smartphone devices, and improving mobile telephone network capacity might provide viable and cost effective solutions for the not too distant future. Affordability of individual eBook titles around the world may be subject to international currency exchange rate variations, disfavouring weaker currencies.
Platform / Standards. eBooks should be available to libraries in the formats that their patrons wish to use. In the UK Kindle users are not able to use eBooks from public libraries.
Cultural challenges.  In Japan, a technologically advanced society, eBook usage is very low. The most popular eBook material is eManga (digital graphical novels) bought and accessed by younger people.  Japanese librarians are reluctant to accommodate this genre of digital literature within their services. Japanese script is read vertically and this may be an additional detraction from using eBooks in Japan.
International challenges.  The international eLending picture is extremely complex. For instance, within Europe there is no aggregated source of eBook loans statistics;  the extent of provision for eLending from Public Libraries varies significantly between the European member states, as do levels of usage. Quantity and quality of available eBooks may be limited in some minority languages (with parallels for Wales here). Differential tax regimes may apply. Some states exempt eBooks from value added tax along with printed books, whilst other states exempt VAT on books, but not on eBooks.
The changing concept of the book.  The concept of the book is becoming increasingly irrelevant:
  • where users can pay for access to a paragraph, page, chapter or whole work;
  • the experience of eBooks on tablets will be completely different, with increased interactivity, multimedia content etc; and
  • the rise of self-publishing, circumventing the traditional publishing routes. 
Phil Bradley suggests that these are of greater concern and challenge to publishers than they are to librarians. Librarians think in terms of fulfilling information requirements. The vehicles for information transmission are therefore of lesser concern.
Data protection. Provision of eBook services via aggregators is in effect outsourcing part of your service, and allowing your aggregator access to information about your users and their reading preferences.  How can we adequately ensure that eBook services won’t sell-on user information to third parties, or barrage our users with unhelpful advertising or excessive recommendations?

National Campaigns / Initiatives – stuff of fairytales?

South America. Chloe Vincente de Billion described a “library fairytale” in eLending, charting successful direct partnership with academic textbook publishers, ignoring the aggregators. This approach recognised how vital textbooks sales are to publishers’ viability, and that the extent of illegal copying of hard-copy resources was already problematic. Working with publishers to understand their needs and ambitions enabled a win-win solution to be arrived at through affordable eLending solutions.
In New Zealand, one aggregator, Wheelers, have developed a purchase model for eBooks to libraries. Work by the National Library in New Zealand and the Library and Information Association in New Zealand have led the way in these developments. Of specific interest to Wales, this arrangement has enabled delivery of eBooks in libraries in Maori and other indigenous languages.
United States.
  •  The American Library Association has developed a toolkit to raise awareness of range of issues relating to eLending, identifying the need to promote eLending via public libraries to members of the public and to support library staff.
  • Some State Library Associations have been vocal when publishers are unhelpful, whilst the ALA has published open letters to specific publishers when they take action that disadvantages libraries. However, the ALA is cautious of only focussing on negative stories, but also encourages celebrating  positive developments in eLending.
  • One eBook to prove them all”. Extensive promotion of a single eBook title within libraries to identify what the positive spin-off for publishers are.
  • Direct engagement: Talking directly with publishers about their concerns. Is there evidence that provision of eLending from libraries is causing an increase in piracy? If not, then why not expand the provision with libraries!  Taking different approaches for different sectors (e.g. school libraries). Also talking directly to authors. Do you find it acceptable that you book is embargoed (withdrawal period)  in eBook format for sale to libraries?
Sweden.  In Sweden the existing model of eBook supply to public libraries was expensive, with limited titles because of withdrawal periods, and was monopoly controlled through a single aggregator owned by the publishers. Talks to change this marketplace, between the Library Association and the Publishers Association in Sweden, broke down. The SLA stressed:
“Access to eBooks in libraries is not only a question of freedom for borrowers in choosing their preferred reading format, but it also affects the library’s core mission: to increase reading and provide citizens with free access to information. .[...] We want a long-term model that weighs publishers’ commercial interests in newly released books with the libraries’ mission to freely make available current information and knowledge.”
Image (c) Swedish Library Association, 2012.
The SLA undertook a brave campaign to force publishers back to the table: “Say hello to your new librarian” with a picture of a chief executive of a Swedish publishing company.  In dire circumstances don’t be afraid to upset some people. Rough times are sometimes required in order to achieve change! The Swedish Government are now on-side strengthening the understanding of libraries core mission with the Swedish publishers. Work is underway on a National eBook Machine – digitizing, storing and making accessible the widest range of content possible.
The context of Sweden is significant here. There is a small, geographically confined market for Swedish language books with a limited number of big publishers in Sweden. Libraries and publishers are therefore undeniably reliant upon each other. Governmental / statutory support for libraries is also strong. The likelihood of success for a similar campaign for eBooks in English, for example, is doubtful.
Denmark. The Danish Library Association worked with two of the largest publishers in Denmark to successfully start publishing eBooks, and to provide a pilot scheme for eLending (  Attempts to extend the scheme with the original publishers failed, but in their stead a wider range of publishers have now joined the eLending scheme. Coincidentally, the collapse of the pilot project provided opportunities for very positive media coverage of the role of libraries within contemporary Denmark, and additional support from the Danish Government.

Ways forward?

Take publishers by the hand. Libraries can help publishers to develop new business models, but we can only do this when publishers and libraries meet at “eye-level”.  Should this be achieved by carrot or stick? Probably a combination of both!
Libraries don’t usually recognise that we have appropriate sticks. However, in this case, we have. Libraries have been a shop window for publishers. The gains for publishers in working with libraries are significant. Libraries also have an advantage. At present finding, purchasing and using eBooks isn’t easy or straightforward. Libraries can provide a trusted partner to support wider use and access to eBooks, and this will benefit publishers and authors in the long run.
Public opinion can also be changed and used to influence publishers.  US examples at local level of news stories about publishers preventing access to the full current catalogue of eBooks by libraries has grown in momentum. At more extremely level is the example of Sweden, and the “This is your new librarian” campaign.
Inform, lobby, influence. Immediate need for joint actions in effective:
·         flow of information between IFLA, EBLIDA and national library associations and societies. All of these organisation need to be aware of what is happening, what has been achieved, and where problems continue to arise.
·         lobbying  of national and European parliaments, WIPO.
·         Influencing change in international and national copyright frameworks.
·         Influencing / raising awareness of issues with the media and informing public opinion.
Several bodies have formulated principles for eLending (see “useful resources”  below). These can be helpful in establishing points for negotiation, evaluation and review of eLending services in public libraries. There is, of course, no requirement to adhere to any of these Principles documents but they provide a framework for future negotiation with key stakeholders including publishers.

Useful resources

Speakers' Presentations are available via the CILIP web site
IFLA - eLending . Provides access to the IFLA Background Paper, Think Piece (providing a wide range of perspectives), and the IFLA Principles for eLending (February 2013).
ALA - Transforming Libraries . Includes the E-Books and Digital Content page, which in turn includes E-book Media and Communications Toolkit - Resources to help start and continue the conversation regarding library e-book lending, access issues, and general public awareness. Tools include press release and op-ed templates and guidelines for using them with editorial and news media contacts, news hooks you can use locally, tips for relationship building with media contacts, and links to examples of e-book-related editorials and news stories.
EBLIDA (European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations) E-Books in Libraries Campaign (launched Summer 2012) . Includes a link to the EBLIDA Principles on the acquisition of and access to eBooks in libraries (November 2012).
CILIP’s response to the DCMS Consultation on eLending in Public Libraries in England. Including four key recommendations, and access to the full consultation response and a briefing paper.  
A TweetDoc capturing tweets with #IFLAebooks is available (PDF, 16 pages - can be slow to load). 
With apologies for any errors, significant omissions, or misrepresentations – these are all of my own making.

[i]  Gerald Leitner, Chair IFLA MLAS
[ii] Peter Wilcke, Swedish Publisher “Public libraries which now have sites for downloading of eBooks to computers and mobiles can become a sort of  “legal marketplace for piracy””. (Quoted by Niclas Lindberg, Secretary General, Swedish Library Association).
[iii] Gerald Leitner, Chair IFLA MLAS

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