Governor Dannel P. Malloy, on June 6, signed a bill authorizing the State Library to “create and maintain an e-book platform for the distribution of electronic books (e-books) to public library patrons.” The bill followed up on legislation passed last year commissioning the Department of Consumer Protection to study how Connecticut’s public libraries could gain fair access to e-books, according to the press release sent by the Office of the Governor.
That study determined that while more than 90 percent of the libraries in Connecticut offer some e-books, many popular titles are often not available or available to libraries at prices above what a consumer might pay. The e-book distribution platform would be the first statewide e-book purchasing program in the nation, and hopes to ease the access and pricing of e-books to libraries, as well as broaden the selection of e-books.
“The use of e-books has exploded in recent years, so this legislation will help libraries offer more resources to the public,” said Dan Carter (R-Bethel/Newtown). “This is a step in the right direction as we seek to keep libraries outfitted with relevant and useful resources, and encourage reading among people of all ages and backgrounds.”
It is a right step, but possibly just one more baby step in the right direction, said C.H. Booth technical librarian Brenda McKinley on June 8.
“At this point, it’s not clear what this [legislation] means to us. I think this is a positive. Essentially, if the state develops the interface — the platform like OverDrive — there is still the issue of agreements with the publishers and getting the content,” said Ms McKinley, who will become director of the town library on July 1. “It would be fantastic if this platform is free to all of the libraries. Consortium buying volume discounts would be beneficial,” she added.
At C.H. Booth Library, e-books and e-audio books are accessed through two platforms, she said. One is OverDrive, which gives library patrons access to thousands of titles through the Bibliomation consortium to which Booth Library belongs. “OverDrive is the vendor, and has agreements with the publishers to sell the e-books to the libraries,” Ms McKinley explained. Additionally, C.H. Booth Library has opted to take part in OverDrive Advantage, allowing for the purchase of e-book titles available only to Newtown patrons. Many library patrons do make use of the e-book borrowing option. Questions do arise around why certain titles are not available, she said, but otherwise people seemed pleased to have access to borrowing e-books, Ms McKinley said.
The other platform used by the local library is One Click Digital from Recorded Books, primarily a source for downloadable audio books.
The greatest limitation at this time for libraries, Ms McKinley said, is the cost. “A library has to pay three to ten times more to ‘buy’ an e-book,” she said. In addition, a publisher may limit the amount of time an e-book is available for lending, or limit the number of checkouts of a particular book. For example, if an e-book is purchased by the library for $100 and allowed only 26 checkouts, in order to continue to offer that particular book to patrons, the library would have to repurchase it when that e-book has been checked out 26 times. E-books purchased do not remain forever in the “collection” of the library, unlike hardbound books, she said.
Publishers also determine the availability of an e-book. Some e-books are loaned for as few as seven days, or up to 21 days. Patrons can predetermine how long they wish to access an e-book, though, which is useful for prolific readers who may not want a title for its full lending time. At C.H. Booth Library, patrons can borrow up to five e-book titles at a time. Hold lists are generated for the popular titles within the Bibliomation system, as only one borrower at a time can borrow an e-copy of a book.
Another issue that librarians face with e-books is that some publishers do not even sell certain titles to libraries, at all, in that form.
“Librarians are obviously alarmed. We need access for our patrons. It’s information and there should be a right to it,” she said, something that the 2013 legislation did begin to address.
Still at issue is the agreement with publishers on getting content. “It’s great that this conversation is happening,” Ms McKinley said, “and that people are interested. It’s not fair to have patrons cut out of the future of publishing.”
State Librarian Kendall Wiggin said that the greatest benefit would be in lowering the barrier to e-books “for all citizens in our state and leveraging limited resources to provide a cost-effective means of broadening the selection of e-books statewide.” The system can also be built to meet the needs of Connecticut libraries, an added benefit.
The new platform would operate on the same principle as iCONN.org, said Mr Wiggin, the statewide database service, making it free to Connecticut libraries. “However, growing the collection of books in the future may take some pooling of resources — state and local — but we haven’t developed a cost model for that yet.”
The legislature has appropriated bond funds to create the platform and add to the collection of e-books, but it could take a year to get the service functioning, Mr Wiggin said.
“Connecticut has a long tradition of resource sharing. Because most e-books are licensed, not sold,” he explained, “libraries are restricted in loaning only to the people living in their service area. The goal of a statewide e-book service is to overcome this barrier to the statewide sharing of e-books. For libraries that don’t currently offer patrons access to e-books, [the new platform] will make it possible for them to do so. For libraries that already offer e-books, they will have a broader collection of titles, and possibly additional copies of titles available for patrons.”
Because each publisher has different licensing schemes, it is still unclear as to which publishers will be willing to work with the State Library platform, Mr Wiggin said.
“I am very appreciative of the support we have received from the governor and the legislature,” Mr Wiggin said. “The new e-book platform is yet another example of how [we] all work together to ensure continued access to information for all of our citizens, no matter what format that information takes,” he said.
“It’s exciting that Connecticut is doing this,” Ms McKinley agreed. “We’ll see where it takes us.”
To create an e-book borrowing account with the C.H. Booth Library, or to find out more about the C.H. Booth Library OverDrive platform, visit www.chboothlibrary.org.