Ebooks for all means digital inclusion for all

Ebooks for all means digital inclusion for all

Friday, October 4, 2019

“Library for All” is more than a slogan for Austin Public Library. Our staff, customers and the entire community prioritize inclusion in many ways. It means creating welcoming environments for all people and abilities. It means delivering services outside of the library walls through events or our bookmobile. And at the very core it means providing access to more than 2.1 million resources, including our virtual e-book collection.

As Austin Public Library joins other organizations around the U.S. to celebrate Digital Inclusion Week from Oct. 7-11, let’s step back and look at the meaning of digital inclusion. From digital literacy training to free internet access, public libraries play a critical part in bridging digital divides and removing barriers to access.

Austin Public Library is dedicated to finding ways to support the increasing usage of our electronic materials which serve over 136,000 customers per month. “Library for All” means removing a major barrier to access – transportation - and providing a robust collection of digital books. And in a city with mobility and affordability growing pains – this is BIG.

Unfortunately, a large U.S. publisher soon will present a barrier to eBook access in the form of a two-month purchasing embargo on new titles beginning Nov 1. What does this mean? For the first two months after a Macmillan book is published, a library can only buy ONE copy. After eight weeks, libraries can purchase "expiring" eBook copies which need to be re-purchased after two years or 52 lends. Macmillan’s changing business model is just the tipping point of a larger effort by publishers to limit access to libraries.

As libraries everywhere pivot to meet our customers where they are – such as in the digital space – what does it say when publishers seek to limit these efforts? At Austin Public Library, the effects of the embargo have the potential to diminish our e-lending capabilities on a monthly basis from 70,700 to 2,828 lends. This ultimately will result in longer wait times for our customers, and a dangerous precedent that publishers can decide what is best for library collections and our customers. Austin Public Library circulates more than 860,000 eBooks every year. This number has been growing 25% annually.

As digital use expands and accounts for a greater percentage of the resource mix, it’s easy to see how a seemingly small policy decision can create a larger ripple in our community. I bring this to your attention because I have seen what our community values, and it is “Library For All.” We will continue to fight for the people’s right to access, and as the director of the best library in the country, I will be signing ALA’s petition #eBooksForAll. I hope you will join me.

Roosevelt Weeks
Director, Austin Public Library