Libraries looking for greater access to e-books
By Chad Ingram
Published Feb. 14, 2019
While demand for e-books and e-audiobooks is growing at library branches across Canada, library users may find they have trouble finding the materials they are looking for. This, according to the Canadian Urban Libraries Council, is due at least in part to multi-national publishing companies that aren’t making best-selling titles, including some by Canadian and Indigenous authors, available to Canadian public libraries.
Another issue is the high prices some publishers are charging libraries for electronic books – think $85 a copy – and some require that libraries re-purchase e-books after they have been read a set number of times.
“And sometimes, it’s both,” says Bessie Sullivan, CEO of the Haliburton County Public Library.
“You could have a line-up of 200 people for an e-book, and then it’s finished after 26 checkouts,” says Erin Kernohan-Berning, branch services librarian.
“So then, who’s ever monitoring that has to re-order it,” says Sullivan.
The county library pays for access to a provincial collection of electronic materials curated by the Southern Ontario Library Service, but also purchases supplemental copies of e-books that are only used by its patrons, “so that’s what we try to do to mitigate the situation where we can,” Kernohan-Berning says.
January was the most popular month on record for e-books in the county library system, with nearly 2,400 digital items loaned out. The county upped its purchases of digital materials last year.
E-books and e-audiobooks make sense for Haliburton County for a number of reasons.
“In bad weather, people are going to use this collection,” Sullivan says, referencing the high number of digital loans for January. “This, to us, is clearly an area we need to develop.”
County residents who are snowbirds in the southern States for the winter can also access the library’s electronic collection from their winter home, and staff have helped residents living elsewhere during other times of the year do the same.
“So people do use the library when they’re not in the area, which is pretty cool,” Kernohan-Berning says. “A lot of times cottagers will have a card for TPL [Toronto Public Library] and a card for here, for instance, and they use both our digital collection and TPL’s.”
“With us putting more money into the digital, anecdotally, kind of the effect from the patron’s point of view is they may have put a hold on that e-book, and have looked at kind of what position they were sitting in . . . ” she says. “I’ve heard from a couple of people, ‘oh, I was like 40th in line and the next day I got it.’ That’s because we bought that supplemental copy because our collections development co-ordinator is looking at those lists and going, wow, that’s a lot of high holds, and our people are on that list.”
“And that’s what’s driving our collection right now,” Sullivan says. “It’s reacting to those wait times.”
The Canadian Urban Libraries Council has been pushing international publishers to offer fairer pricing to libraries and is continuing that advocacy work.
“We are going to be extending the advocacy on this topic into a longer term strategy,” council executive director Jefferson Gilbert told the paper in an email. “And already one of the Big 5 [publishers] has reached out in a positive and constructive dialogue about we can better work together and make unavailable materials available in Canada. They are asking us to prioritize the order in which they are working on updated contracts, etc.”