New American Libraries supplement examines future of ebook lending

For Immediate Release
Wed, 05/22/2013


Jazzy Wright

Press Officer

Washington Office

American Library Association


Washington, D.C.—Leading library practitioners and experts discuss promises and “Faustian bargains” of ebooks in the new American Libraries digital supplement Digital Content: What’s Next?

The future-focused digital supplement examines how libraries are evolving in response to the digital revolution, including exploiting opportunities in self-publishing, while confronting challenges in licensing constraints. The digital supplement also details progress made by the ALA’s Digital Content Working Group to advocate for equitable access to ebooks produced by the world’s largest book publishers.

“In early 2012, urgent questions revolved around why the Big Six publishers wouldn’t do business with libraries or, for those publishers who did, why the terms were so unfavorable,” said ALA President Maureen Sullivan. “We focused on these issues last year and into 2013. While we’ve made some headway, more remains for us to do. ALA also will increase its focus on the many opportunities and challenges beyond the Big Six.”

“It is time for the library to step up as the nurturer of content creation,” says James LaRue, director of Colorado’s Douglas County Libraries system. In “Wanna Write a Good One?” LaRue discusses how libraries can—and should—become local community publishers and how community members themselves could be involved in deciding which ebooks are made available by libraries.

In “Ebooks in 2013: Promises Broken, Promises Kept, and Faustian Bargains,” Clifford Lynch, executive director of the Coalition for Networked Information, provides an overall assessment of the library ebook situation, concluding that “the reality has been appalling.” Lynch focuses on the library’s roles in society to preserve the cultural heritage, provide accommodation for people with disabilities, and protect individual privacy—and how the ebook status quo gravely threatens libraries’ ability to fulfill these roles.

In another piece “The Unpackaged Book,” Peter Brantley, director of scholarly communication at, examines the implications of ebooks that are no longer the intact products of today’s trade ebooks. How will libraries acquire and provide access to ebooks that are effectively living websites? The fundamental model of libraries, publishers, distributors, and books will need further reengineering.

The significance of the present change is extraordinary, comparable to the historical times of Andrew Carnegie or Johannes Gutenberg. To manage and lead through this period of possibilities, libraries must be more collaborative, which is the theme in “Librarians Working Together” by Sullivan, Keith Michael Fiels, ALA executive director, and Alan S. Inouye, director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and the supplement’s editor.

“Significant aspects of the decision-making that library managers control have moved into the hands of the executives of publishing houses, distributor companies, and other organizations outside of the library community,” the group writes. “The library community needs to develop fundamentally different ways of operating.”

The digital supplement also includes “ALA, Future of Libraries, Digital Content, and Ebooks,” by Barbara Stripling, ALA president-elect; Marijke Visser, assistant director in ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy; Sari Feldman, executive director at Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library; and Robert Wolven, associate university librarian at Columbia University; “Working Directly with Publishers: Lessons Learned,” by Rochelle Logan, associate director at Douglas County Libraries; and “Nondisclosure Clauses,” by Mary Minow, Follett Chair at Dominican University and Angeline Nalepa, librarian at South Suburban College (Ill.).

The supplement Digital Content: What’s Next? is the third supplement to American Libraries magazine on ebooks and digital content. For more information about the ALA’s efforts on digital content and libraries, visit the American Libraries E-content blog.

Participate in the ebook discussion at the 2013 Annual American Library Association Conference in Chicago. At the session “ALA, Ebooks, and Digital Content: What’s Next?” the leadership of ALA’s Digital Content Working Group will provide an overview of ALA activities and plans. A distinguished panel will then provide views on libraries as publishers and stewards of America’s digital cultural heritage, and how ALA can best advocate for these important library interests. Brantley and Wolven will continue the conversation as part of the ALA Virtual Conference on July 24.

Read the full report

About the American Library Association

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 58,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.