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E-book demand and library boycott

March 25, 2011

by Christine Kenyi

(Christine Kenyi)

As a member of the Upper Hudson Library System, the Pine Hills Public Library is one of many libraries in the community attempting to meet the growing demand for e-books. However this effort is being affected by recent developments in pricing agreements between publishers and libraries.

These electronic counterparts of printed books that can be viewed on computers, smart phones or e-book readers have created a shift in the way readers access their books. A wide variety of e-book reader devices are available with prices ranging from around $150 for items such as the Amazon Kindle, and the Barnes Noble Nook, to $350 and above for items such as the Apple iPad.

Pine Hills Library user Autumn King would like to see e-books incorporated more into the library system because of the different features they offer the reader.

“I like them because you can adjust the size of the letters,” said King. She enjoyed this feature the e-books offer because it allowed her grandmother to enlarge the text size rather than use a magnifying glass. She said that although there was value to be had in hard copy books, e-books would soon become a preferred method for many readers.

“We already offer some downloadable material,” said Ethel LaPier, the head of branch services in multiple Albany Public Library locations including the Pine Hills branch.

Although the Pine Hills Public Library does not currently have an extensive e-book collection, library card holders have online access to the Upper Hudson Library System. This system is an association of 29 public libraries, including the Pine Hills Public Library, that aims to improve library services to the public in Albany and Rensselaer counties. It has a broad online collection of e-books consisting of 5,600 titles. The system allows library users who may not yet own e-book readers to download e-books in many forms including the well-known PDF format and e-Pub formats that are more versatile offering features such as text-size manipulation. Users can then view them on their computers, smart phones or e-book readers.

“If you look at our collection, 90% of our titles are out today. We cannot purchase titles fast enough,” said Jo-Ann Benedetti, the manager of information and outreach services, at the Upper Hudson Library System.

From the beginning of the year to March 18th the system recorded 2,036 total e-book checkouts from public library members in Albany and a total of 10,811 checkouts in both Albany and Rensselaer counties. Since each title can only be checked out by one person at a time, Benedetti said that these numbers are evidence of just how much of a demand there is for e-books.

“E-books will be a serious part of libraries’ services once the publishers figure out a business plan that will allow us to offer them without paying for every individual use,” said LaPier.

A hardcover copy of the most requested book in the Albany Public Library System within the last year, ‘The Help’ by Kathryn Stockett, can be purchased for the retail price of $24.95, and a paperback copy for $7.75. The library system would typically purchase a hardcover title at a discounted price of around $13. However, this e-book title costs the library system $24.95, and there are no discounts available.

Electronic content is costing library systems more money and that problem  is worsened by the additional obstacle of pricing agreements with publishers. Now, the agreement between the library system and publishers permits library users to check out an e-book infinite times.

Now, though, a recent New York Times article reported that HarperCollins Publishers has implemented new restrictions

Inscape newspaper excerpt – Thurs Sept 18th 1978 – Top 10 listing of paperback titles

and will no longer permit unlimited checkouts on e-books. Instead, libraries will be permitted to allow only 26 check outs per e-book, before the book expires and must be repurchased by the library.

“We think that HarperCollins’ decision is a poor decision, and we as a system have decided to boycott them,” said Benedetti.
She felt that 26 was a random number and HarperCollins were being unfair, particularly because of the reduced production costs they face with e-books compared to hardcover or paperback books.
An additional challenge faced by the library system when attempting to broaden its e-book collection is looming budget cuts.
“We are now facing our fifth budget cut, which adds up to about a 27 to 30% cut in the last three years. It’s quite a challenge to keep up with the demand with our budgets being cut,” said Benedetti.
Despite these challenges, the Upper Hudson Library System and its member libraries such as the Pine Hills Public Library remain confident that e-books will continue to be an integral part of library systems from now on, and are willing to meet library users’ demands for them.

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