Joint Digital Content Working Group

icon representing digital content issuesAt the 2019 ALA Annual Conference, the ALA Council approved a resolution calling for establishment of a Joint Working Group on eBook and Digital Content Pricing in Libraries.


The ALA Joint Digital Content Working Group is charged to:

  • Advise the Association regarding opportunities and issues related to libraries and digital content and the provision of equitable access to digital content for all.
  • Explore, analyze and share information on various options for  expanding access to digital content for libraries and  the public  and for overcoming legal, technological, policy and economic barriers to equitable access
  • Suggest information and training that would be of use to librarians so that they can make informed choices, serve as advocates for digital access, and design and support digital services.
  • Advise the Association on efforts to increase public awareness and understanding of issues related to access to digital content and the challenges to/role of libraries in providing equitable access to digital resources.
  • Assist in the identification of strategies to influence decision makers—whether government officials, publishers, other information service providers, interest groups, and others—to effect changes that would assist libraries in better serving their communities. 
  • Address specific issues such as Business Models, Accessibility, Privacy, Education for the Library Community, Public Outreach and Publisher/Service Provider Relations through working subcommittees, bringing in other experts and advisors as appropriate.
  • Serve as formal liaisons to various ALA and ALA affiliate groups (examples would include the divisions, round tables, ethnic affiliates, and ALA Accessibility Assembly).
  • As appropriate, reach out to other organizations and experts in other fields in order to better understand the broad technological, social and economic environments and trends and their potential impact on libraries.


Working Group Members


  • Leah Dunn, Director of Collection Strategies, Columbia University Libraries
  • Kelvin Watson, Executive Director, Las Vegas-Clark County Library District Administrative Offices

ALA Groups

  • Robert Barr, Library Director, Juneau Public Library (AK) (ALA Committee on Legislation)
  • Marilyn Billings, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts, MA (ACRL)
  • Brett S. Cloyd, Research and Government Information, University of Iowa Libraries (GODORT)
  • Christine K. Dulaney, Associate University Librarian/Director, American University-BenderLibrary (LLAMA)
  • Anita Foster, Electronic Resources Librarian, The Ohio State University Libraries (ALCTS)
  • John Klima, Assistant Director, Waukesha Public Library, WI (LITA)
  • Richard Kong, Director, Skokie Public Library, IL (PLA)
  • Shenise McGhee, Associate Professor/Librarian, University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, John BrownWatson Memorial Library System (ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee)
  • Andrew Medlar, Director of BookOps, New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library (ALSC)
  • Elizabeth (Liz) Philippi, School Program Coordinator, Texas State Library and Archives Commission (AASL)
  • Veronda Pitchford, Assistant Director, Califa, CA (United for Libraries)
  • Dave Schroeder, Executive Director, Kenton County Public Library, KY (ALA Committee on Library Advocacy)
  • Stephen Spohn, Executive Director, Ocean State Libraries, RI (ASGCLA)
  • Natalia Tingle, Business Collections & Reference Librarian, University of Colorado Boulder (RUSA)
  • Jamie Watson, Collection Development Coordinator, Baltimore County Public Library (YALSA)

External Organizations

  • Cindy Aden, Washington State Librarian, Washington State Library, WA (COSLA)
  • Susan Benton, President & CEO, Urban Libraries Council, DC (ULC)
  • Beth Black, Undergraduate Engagement Librarian, Ohio State University
  • Michael Blackwell, Director, St. Mary’s County Library, MD (Readers First)
  • Fannie M. Cox, Outreach & Reference Librarian/Associate Professor, University of Louisville-Ekstrom Library, KY (BCALA)
  • Sandra DeGroote, Scholarly Communications Librarian, University of Illinois at Chicago, IL (MLA)
  • Cynthia Hohl, Director of Branch Operations, Kansas City Public Library, MO (AILA)
  • Minhao Jiang, Web Master and Software Development, Wayne State University Library (CALA)
  • Jessica Krill, Digital Content Team Librarian, Los Angeles Public Library, CA, (REFORMA)
  • Clifford Lynch, Executive Director, Coalition for Networked Information, DC (CNI)
  • Tara Murray, Librarian for Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Penn State University, PA (SLA)
  • Brian F. O’Leary, Executive Director, Book Industry Study Group, NY (BISG)
  • Steve Potash, Founder and CEO, OverDrive, Inc.
  • Kevin Smith, Dean of Libraries, University of Kansas, KS (ARL)
  • Sandy Wee, Library Services Manager, San Mateo County Library System, CA (APALA)
  • Rachel Williams, Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Science, Simmons University, MA (ALISE)


“The Need for Change:  A Position Paper on E-Lending by the ALA Joint Digital Content Working Group” assesses the digital lending ecosystem in pubic, academic, and school libraries. While noting that improvements in content access and the reading experience have occurred in the last decade, the paper notes that serious issues complicate acquisition of, user access to, and preservation of information. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst, increasing digital demand—demand that promises to be long-term--while threatening budget restrictions that may further restrict patron access, with digital material being costlier per-use than print. 

License terms from publishers for ebooks and digital audiobooks are problematic in all types of libraries.  In public libraries and school libraries, ebook content from many major publishers has increasingly been available only on time-bound “exploding” terms. Re-licensing is required frequently, driving up long–term costs and complicating the maintenance of intact series and preservation. Academic libraries sometimes have more long-term license options, but not in every case, jeopardizing their mission as stewards of cultural memories. Price complicates access: individual titles can be priced unsustainably, especially in school libraries, many of which are desperately underfunded to meet an increasingly digital future. Lower costs—perhaps approximating hardcover—for perpetual access may be the only option for creating rich digital collections sustainable over time. Lacking that option, libraries should advocate for multiple models from publishers: a premium-priced perpetual, less-costly circulation (and not time) bound metered licenses, perhaps with a subscription (and not pay-per-use) on backlists. For academic and school libraries, text books and institutional licenses allowing many students simultaneous access to titles are especially cost-prohibitive and in need of advocacy. While better than a decade ago, access to titles remains troublesome, with important titles like some past Pulitzer winners unavailable. Wealthy companies publishing “exclusive” content that is not licensed to libraries compound the problem.  

Other formats, such streaming video and music, are even more vexing, especially for academic and school libraries. Institutional licenses are often either unavailable or so cost-prohibitive as to student access impossible. Increasing amounts of film and television content, developed for streaming to individual subscribers, are not available to libraries in any format as disc release become rarer.

Publishers are not, however, the only entity inhibiting efficient content access. Publishers note that many library content provider platforms could not offer multiple license models simultaneously even if the models were offered. Library digital content providers need to invest to make their platforms more robust and enhance accessibility features.

Libraries should remain steadfast in doing what benefits their patrons. An increasing preference for digital content will continue even after stay-at-home, shelter-in-place and physical distancing restrictions are lifted. If we cannot find ways to make our digital collections robust and lasting, including a return to perpetual access in some form as an option, libraries will never be able to meet an ever-increasing demand and provide equity to the communities we serve. 

Read the full December 2020 report: The Need for Change: A Position Paper on E-Lending by the Joint Digital Content Working Group (PDF)