Why You Should Be Using Your Public Library’s eBook/Audiobook Collections (And A Note On The Threat to eBook Lending)

EBooks. Love them or hate them they are here to stay.

As a librarian I have an innate love for print, print books, magazines, newspapers, journals. It makes me sad that a lot of that media is being forced towards a digital only platform. Books, however, seem to be enjoying a resurgence in the popularity of their print form. There is something in the kinesthetic experience of holding a print item, reading the words on a piece of paper and flipping through pages. I’m sure my love of print is also connected to my hoarder tendencies (imagine a dragon jealously guarding his hoard of gold, stroking the shiny jewels and coins and that is me with my back issues of Writer’s Digest and National Geographic, my books, and newspapers I think have “historic value”).

Ebooks and audiobooks were not created to replace print. There are many aspects of digital content that are innocent of the nefarious agenda of replacing print. Many people find ebooks and audiobooks an accessible alternative to print, those with visual disabilities in particular but there are others with physical limitations who find digital content more convenient.

As a breastfeeding mother I have discovered trying to balance a print item much more difficult than holding my phone for the hours a day I find myself trapped beneath a sleeping or nursing baby. As a millennial I also find I am much more likely to remember to grab my phone above anything else when taking the kids outside, to the park, to a play place, or doctors office.

Since downloading Overdrive and utilizing my public library’s subscription I have read/listened to 11 books this year. That is a lot considering I also had a baby this year AND had to deal with a lot of scary appointments involving my new baby.

I work full time and have a long commute so the audiobooks have been a godsend. The radio’s Top 40 gets old real quick and while I enjoy my Apple Music subscription I also find this time valuable for catching up on stories via the audiobooks. I listened to the entire Outlander series via audiobooks in the last two years (purchased through Audible). Audiobooks and ebooks are viable alternatives for when print books are genuinely inconvenient. For those working, commuting, and parenting they seem to be a particular boon and I am grateful for the access.

Ebook lending in particular for libraries has been threatened by a controversial policy change from Macmillan Publishing which expands the embargo period on new title releases. An embargo is jargon for a period of time in which there is limited or no access to a title, also common in academic journals available through college databases. Essentially the policy change means that libraries will only be able to purchase one (1) perpetual access ebook in the first eight weeks after a title’s release. One.

Let me say that again.

One.

For large library systems, super popular titles, low income and those with disabilities this is not good news. Ever used a library service to check out an ebook or audiobook and got put on a waitlist (#6 out of 14 holds on 3 copies, etc.)? This would make that waitlist a heck of a lot longer, all but guaranteeing you won’t get to read that new release for several months unless you get frustrated enough to buy it (which is the goal).

This is misguided for a few reasons. One: library acquisitions count for a healthy number of book sales. Alienate libraries and your authors may find themselves choosing over publishing houses. Two: library lending has been known to increase books sales by satisfied patrons on subsequent titles from authors they have enjoyed via check outs. Library lending of ebooks allows patrons to discover new authors which will lead to purchasing future books by favored authors.

This shift in policy is not exactly a lone duck attack on Libraries’ ebook lending. Penguin Random House and Hachette have also changed policy on library licensing of new ebooks, eliminating perpetual access, limiting acquisition licensing to two years (expanding from one year to two years access in Penguin’s case but still eliminating perpetual access licensing which is a collections nightmare). What these publishers fail to realize is that many users of libraries do not have the disposable income to invest in new books if they are unfamiliar with the author. They most likely will just go without. Low income individuals, heck in the current economy even middle income individuals are not going to willy nilly spend money on books they aren’t invested in. Libraries provide the platform for readers to invest in authors, in series, in publishers.

In a statement from the American Library Association’s President, Wanda Brown explains, “Macmillan Publishers’ new model for library ebook lending will make it difficult for libraries to fulfill our central mission: ensuring access to information for all…Limiting access to new titles for libraries means limiting access for patrons most dependent on libraries.”

The ALA encourages library patrons to contact Macmillan Publishing with their concerns.