Sunday, 12 August 2012

Response to CILIP E-Book Policy

I spent a very enjoyable hour yesterday eating lemon meringue ice cream while sitting in a field and reading CILIP's policy document on e-books and e-lending. Sometimes it's nice just to be outside in the sunshine and luckily I have plenty of fields to choose from.

I love the amount of press e-books are getting at the moment and the publishing of this document (two in fact, there are long and short versions) is a statement in itself that the subject is being taken seriously. However at the same time the policy  briefing (I read the full version) made me a bit cross. One page in and I started wishing I'd brought a red pen with me. However I'm going to be constructive, obviously CILIP has put the documentation out for comment for a reason.

I was disappointed that more wasn't made of the convergence of the academic and public  models. E-book delivery is developing rapidly. While it was once true that the academic models favored online reading and the public demanded downloads increasingly we are seeing hybrid systems that deliver both. Touched on briefly in the policy I believe that this convergence will eventually take us to a single model for all types of e-books regardless of sector. For current examples see Ebrary's Apps  and Overdrive's browser based READ Platform, both companies that while mainly associated with one sector/delivery method are increasingly working across both. 
In terms of the policy my point is that this convergence is happening now and while some aspects of academic and public e-lending will remain fundamentally different  the delivery platform will not. Increasingly suppliers are working with both academic and public sectors and it makes economic sense to develop platforms that can be used across both. Rather than looking back at what has always been done we need to make sure that we are looking  forward and paying attention to the cutting edge of e-book delivery. I don't believe the policy does this as it stands. 

As a user of Dawson Era I was also disappointed not to see it's purchase/subscription offer listed in the appendix. (Page 17, part 2) In fact I think more investigation needs to go into this list as it seems a bit incomplete. In terms of the Dawson model, books are purchased with a number of credits and each use (download or online) deducts a set amount of these credits. Once the credits run down to zero you have to buy another copy. While I'll admit to be being bias about Dawson Era I do believe that this credit system offers a more sustainable way of lending e-books for both libraries and the publisher/rights holder. It's more flexible than the 26 loans per copy license favored by some publishers and allows credit to be set individually for each book giving publishers a number of different options when it comes to setting prices.

In more general terms I agree with the policy and what it stands for. I have, as ever, my own comment on some subjects that I've outlined below but in general it provides a good overview of the current situation. It also outlines some developments I wasn't aware of, for example the EBLIDA e-book campaign. This in particular highlights that e-books are bigger than individual services, bigger really than individual countries. Their very nature means they have to be a global concern and as such need to be addressed at a global level. An EBLIDA campaign is a step towards this, as is the recent commitment from WLIC '12 that the IFLA will work together internationally on e-books. 

To round up my views on a few subjects without embarking on an essay:
  • The rapid advances in technology over the past few decade means that legislations, such as PLR, copyright and the 1964 Act are no longer fit purpose. Amendments must be made (and enforced!)  to protect rights holders and allow libraries to continue with their business. To achieve this the government will have to be part of the conversation, however........
  • short of creating a national depository of e-books there is little the government can bring to the table when it comes to finding a resolution between authors, publishers and libraries. You may say that I am naive but e-books are business, not politics. A solution must be determined by market forces and financial feasibility otherwise it won't be sustainable. 
  • While libraries may have to compromise on some issues I believe strongly that a charge for e-books is a charge for a core library service and is not acceptable. However I also understand that there is precedent for charging in public libraries, for example audio books. Hard pressed public libraries need new sources of income and while I don't condone charging I would rather see it for e-books than services such as internet access. Of course in academic libraries charging shouldn't even be considered as students are already paying for the resources in the form of tuition fees. 
  • Forcing patrons to physically visit libraries to borrow e-books is likely to be a deciding nail in the coffin for library e-book services. We might as well give up now. While there is precedent in some academic licenses the trend has been for libraries to move away from on site only access in favor of remote. Arguments of protecting footfall only demonstrates a blinkered and out dated view of what constitutes a library 'visit.' Ultimately there will be to many other, more convenient ways, to purchase or borrow e-books, either legally or illegally, that patrons will turn to if they are forced make a physical visit. I bought a Sony E-Reader because it allowed me to borrow books from my library. If I had to go to the library to do this I'd just buy a Kindle instead.
Lastly I would like to comment on something not raised in the policy but touched on in CILIP's Communities Information and Advice Blog. It raises the feasibility of regional, or even a single national, depositories of e-books for public library users. Although some might argue for a single system I can't help but think that we need a number of different ones to encourage innovative design and use. With library consortia already established across the country I would place my vote for regional catalogues of e-books, large enough to have significant spending power while still being able to tailor purchases to their communities. Many consortia are going down this route for their LMS and acquisition services so an extension to e-books would be natural.

To round up I'll say that the important bit is what comes next, how we use the policy and how we move forward. When it comes to future proofing our library services e-books are a big deal. What ever happens we need to make sure we get it right.

And in case anyone is interested the lemon meringue ice cream came from Fearnley's on Scout Road in Bolton. It's really very good if you are in the area.

1 comment:

  1. Cilip quickly responded to this blog post and said that they would be taking the points on board. They did point out that the published documents are just that, not an official CILIP policy but a workin progress. So where I've referred to the documents as policy, read proposal/statement instead. I look forward to seeing the revised statement.