British Library attacked for Amazon link

The British Library has come under fire from booksellers for including a link to online giant Amazon.co.uk on entries in its public online catalogue. The catalogue lists more than 13 million items in the British Library's collection, detailing the library's cataloguing details in each case, together with general information on each book. There is also a final field, "This item in Amazon.co.uk", on each record. This field links directly to the relevant page on Amazon, where the book can be bought. If the title is not among Amazon's stock, the page offers "More titles to consider" instead.

A spokesperson for the British Library said it was currently piloting a link to Amazon on its Integrated Catalogue "with the aim of providing users with the choice of an alternative method of obtaining a title if, for some reason, it is not available in the Library's Reading Rooms."

Waterstone's m.d. James Daunt criticised the development, saying: "It's disappointing to say the least that a very British institution is driving readers away from local libraries and high street bookshops. In an environment where high street booksellers and libraries face huge pressures, it is a shame that the British Library choose to give their endorsement to one aggressively commercial organisation."

Johnny de Falbe, co-owner of London's Sandoe bookshop, commented: "The British Library, a public institution, should not be offering this link to Amazon, which is not (last I heard) a public institution. And if the British Library, of all people, are not supporting British bookshops, and positively steering business away from independents, then why should anyone else have any faith, or interest, in independents?"

De Falbe said he believed there was an "insidious undermining" of the idea of bookshops that threatened independents more than the existence of Kindles or Amazon itself. "The British Library takes it for granted that it's okay to put up this link to Amazon, and indeed that it is helpful. They take it for granted that people looking something up on their catalogue will prefer to shop online, at Amazon, rather than go to a bookshop," he said.

The British Library spokesperson said its link was to Amazon rather than other booksellers because this was provided as a pre-built generic link coming with the Primo software supplied by ExLibris, the search engine behind the library's website that also powers its online integrated catalogue. The spokesperson denied that the library was making any revenue out of the arrangement and added: "The library is currently reviewing the success of this service."