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Hwang Seeks To Assist Libraries With E-Book Costs



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HARTFORD — Senator Tony Hwang (R-28), bipartisan legislators, and Connecticut librarians from across the state brought awareness to an ever-increasing budgetary shortfall that these important community cornerstones and resources are facing, and committed to work together to offer solutions to support our local libraries.

According to a release from the senator, the lawmakers were joined by Ellen Paul, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Library Consortium, Deborah Schander, Connecticut’s State Librarian, and a number of librarians from Connecticut’s cities, suburbs and rural municipalities, and higher education libraries as well.

Each member of the group brought their own stories on the challenges they face to balance providing their virtual and in person visitors with cutting edge works, materials, and programs while upholding a high standard for access and public safety.

As a budget line item that is under constant scrutiny, Connecticut public libraries now receive an average of only 1.15% of municipal budgets to provide needed services to the communities they serve.

Further, libraries are facing the increased costs associated with obtaining digital resources that enable people to access materials regardless of their location or disability status, the release states.

According to the State Library, the cost for libraries to obtain an eBook license is twice what it costs to purchase a hardcover copy of the same resource and these licenses often expire after a set period of time or number of uses. To get an audio version that can be accessed by those with vision or other reading impairments, the costs can be four times greater still.

Douglas Lord of Newtown’s C.H. Booth Library, who initiated this idea to Senator Hwang during a recent tour of Booth Library, said, “Attention to this particular area of library budgets is both timely and important. Librarians routinely spin gold out of straw, but eBooks hit our budgets in a particularly hard way. Add to that the various license restrictions and embargoes that are conditional on each one, and librarians spending extra dollars — and a disproportionate amount of time — dealing with eBook purchases is something we deal with every day in Newtown.”

Connecticut State Librarian Deborah Schander said, “Libraries are at a critical juncture. Two years into this pandemic, they are offering both traditional and innovative services to their communities, but not without figurative and literal costs. One particular pressure point is the cost of providing electronic materials, which are far higher than those associated with print books. With more people borrowing eBooks and audiobooks than ever, this is the time to talk about ways we can support our libraries’ collections and their bottom lines.”

Ellen Paul, executive director of the Connecticut Library Consortium, said, “I appreciate Senator Hwang’s leadership on the crucial issue of the inflated costs of library eBooks.”

Paul said this issue affects every taxpayer in Connecticut who supports their local library through their hard-earned tax dollars.

“Libraries regularly pay four to five times what consumers pay for the same eBooks and then are forced to rebuy the same titles every year, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars over the life of a single eBook and making a robust eBook collection out of reach for many libraries. Publishers have been taking advantage of libraries and taxpayers for far too long, and I applaud Senator Hwang for bringing the public’s attention to this critical issue of access and equity for Connecticut residents,” Paul added.

Senator Hwang pointed out that public and private libraries are gathering spaces, social centers for residents of all ages, educational outlets, community connectors as well as a vital method for people to access resources and information.

“I am deeply concerned over the mounting challenges that Connecticut’s libraries face to provide internet access, educational programs, physical library materials and digital resources,” Hwang said. “These are issues of social equity, access and accessibility. Libraries provide a way for seniors to leave their at-home isolation as well as a way for new families to connect with their child’s future classmates in town. No matter your age, social economic background and informational needs, I am here to say that I love our libraries.”

The legislature’s bipartisan Planning and Development Committee raised SB 131 and will have a legislative public hearing on February 25 on reducing e-book digital costs to better support Connecticut’s libraries and will schedule a public hearing in the upcoming weeks.

It is important to note that both library leaders and legislators respect the delicate balance between copyright protection, municipal funding and unique challenges of public policy on public/private businesses, but look forward to a continuing conversation in search of solutions that will work for all stakeholders.

At 11 am Friday, February 25, the Planning and Development Committee was set to hold a virtual public hearing on SB No. 131 An Act Concerning Electronic Book Licensing. Video of the hearing was scheduled to be posted on the Connecticut government network CT-N.

Sen Tony Hwang at a recent event concerning funding for Connecticut state libraries.
Sen Tony Hwang and state and local librarians at a recent event concerning funding for local libraries.
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