For immediate release | February 8, 2012

American Library Association President Molly Raphael, ALA delegation discuss library e-book lending with publishers

CHICAGO – American Library Association (ALA) President Molly Raphael led an ALA delegation to New York last week to meet separately with representatives from publishers Penguin, Macmillan, Random House, Simon & Schuster and Perseus.

The representatives at these meetings included CEOs, division presidents and other executives.

“We had frank discussions related to library e-book lending and are appreciative of the serious engagement by these publishers. Many of the meetings extended for a longer time than scheduled, and all ended with the expectation of a continuing dialogue between each publisher and ALA,” Raphael said.

She said that in each meeting, “we reaffirmed our mutual desire to bring authors and readers together. Indeed, publishers and libraries enjoy a long history of productive relationships toward this end. There was ready acknowledgment of the key role that libraries and publishers play in society. And there was a desire for a mutually beneficial way forward for library e-book lending.”

Acknowledging that the e-book format will continue to accelerate, as will e-content in general, Raphael said that, despite their common mission of linking authors and readers, libraries and publishers have some goals that diverge. “It is these differences that lead to varying views in the library and publishing worlds of business models and overall short- and long-term strategies.”

She said the discussions with publishers who already sell e-books to libraries focused on how to maintain and strengthen those relationships. Libraries, she said, play a key role in “discoverability,” identifying the most relevant works for the communities they serve.

“We weed out titles and feature new titles. We construct displays in our libraries and sponsor author events, often in partnership with local bookstores. We provide literacy training; support for book groups; and offer myriad other services that promote reading and book genres, titles and authors,” she said. “These publishers clearly place a high value on the library role in discoverability, and we agreed to continue discussions on how best to provide and promote e-books to library patrons.”

In meeting with publishers who do not sell e-books, “we shared our profession’s concerns regarding the impact of these practices on library users, many of whom rely solely on the public library for their reading choices.”

The meeting revealed some misconceptions about how libraries operate. Once those issues were clarified, she said, some of the publishers’ concerns were mitigated.

“For example, some publishers had the impression that libraries lend to whomever visited their respective websites, thus making collections available virtually worldwide without restriction.

We explained the close ties between a library and its community and that collection development is based on what our users want to find in their libraries. Thus, we emphasized, e-book collections—financed mostly through local tax dollars—reflect local interests, with access restricted to the cardholders of each individual library,” she said.

She said ALA agreed to provide feedback on any ideas they may have. She also said that publishers agreed to consider proposals from ALA.

One key issue that emerged, she said, was the concern of publishers that the ready download-ability of library e-books could adversely impact sales. From the viewpoint of publishers, there is some security in the “friction” provided in borrowing a print book, which often involves two trips – one to pick up the book and another to return it.

Another issue that arose in all of the meetings was the influential role of intermediaries—aggregators or retailers—in library e-book lending.

“It was agreed that we—publishers, libraries, intermediaries and others—operate in an ecosystem that is experiencing profound change. At the same time, a thorough understanding of the ecosystem backed by reliable data is not readily available, and deserves increased attention from ALA and others,” she said.

Raphael said that the biggest lesson to be drawn from the meetings was the importance of direct communication.

“We didn’t leave New York with complete and perfect solutions; that wouldn’t have been a realistic expectation. But I am happy with the progress that we made on multiple fronts—establishing ongoing direct lines of communication and correcting misconceptions about libraries, to mention only two. Much work remains to fully grasp the rapidly changing context of digital content and libraries and to converge on solutions that all key stakeholders can live with. We must find these solutions so that libraries can continue to provide the best possible service to their communities.”

She said there will be further communication with these five publishers, as well as contact with other publishers and intermediaries and additional activities within the framework of ALA’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group.

She advised those interested to look for further communications from the co-chairs of the Working Group, the chairs of its subgroups and ALA leadership in the near future.


Steve Zalusky