E-books: Reading the Future

I’ve been lucky enough to receive the news this week that the library will be sending me to a one day seminar on E Books this month. The event is run by EUROLIS, The consortium of librarians of European cultural institutes in CILIP and London. There will be key note speakers from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and The UK; each of whom will be giving a presentation on a particular aspect of E-books and how they are affecting libraries across Europe. As my library is very traditional in a lot of ways, we do not hold E-books in our collection at all so it will be interesting to get an insight into how they have been integrated by and in many ways are completely transforming the sphere of libraries. It will also be good to get a wider picture of the scope of E-books, not just across the country but the whole of Europe.

e booksHaving never personally come into too much close contact with them, I decided to conduct some research in preparation for the conference. The chair and first speaker is Janene Cox, a member of the team who were commissioned to create an independent review of e-lending and its effect on all participants including writers, agents, publishers, wholesalers, retailers, readers and of course, Librarians in 2013!

The report delineates that the main issues are thus; within some markets e-books are now outselling their printed counter-parts which, within the arena of books, has initiated unprecedented changes and shifts. Publishers’ fears of selling e-books to libraries stem from the ease with which users could remotely download books from their library, significantly devaluing shop-bought books. The ease with which users could borrow books in this way, without even having to visit the library could mean people are dissuaded from ever having to buy a book themselves again.

The reverse of this situation is that the demand for digital formats is extremely high; superseding that of traditional print loans and without the ability to meet this demand, current library services face the risk of becoming obsolete.

Sieghart’s report recommended the following suggestions; that an e-book lending service should be allowed but in no way compulsory for any public libraries. The digital copies should be treated, in as many ways as possible, like a hard-copy book in a sense that it ought to be available for loan to one member at a time and that after a certain amount of times, the e-book will expire, just as a paper book will deteriorate and become unfit for purpose. Writers and authors should be compensated for the loan of their books in the same way and therefore the public lending right should be revised to include digital book formats so that all rights holders rightfully receive compensation.

A number of pilot projects were established in order to test business models and user-behaviours to create an evidence base. Janene Cox has co-chaired this project and will be telling us all about it in the conference.
More recently, Sieghart has once more come under spotlight as he has been commissioned to help determine the future of public libraries and suggest how things should change. He himself has alleged that the current situation is “Dysfunctional”; he gives examples and evidence such as the fact that only 37% of British libraries can offer Wi-fi. His main objective is for substantial governance of libraries, he advocates the idea of a professional body to be appointed to over-see an overhaul of the system who will unify and modernise libraries. Some of the main recommendations were to move all libraries to one unified content management system, nationalise library cards and enable loans across the UK, provide digital training to librarians and commit to Wi-fi.

It seems that the conference is set to explore a variation of topics but predominantly the big question it seeks to explore is that of the role of libraries in the future and how it will and already has changed in the face of the digital revolution. I am particularly looking forward to Melanie Le Torrec’s talk on how France has cultivated a nation wide e-interface which is the product of co-operation with public libraries and publishers alike and is a success story of digitised learning and how it can be achieved through working with all stake-holders and setting ground rules.

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