Library e-lending debated in Westminster

Library e-lending debated in Westminster

An advertising-funded library e-lending system was among the topics discussed at a Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group event in the House of Commons on Wednesday (24th October).

In a debate, organised with The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, chair of the APPG Justin Tomlinson MP discussed library e-lending alongside chief executive of the Publishers Association Richard Mollet; c.e.o. of e-book distributors Overdrive, Steve Potash; director of collections and circulation operations at the New York Public Library, Christopher Platt; and literary editor of GQ and published poet, Olivia Cole.

Describing systems in place in the USA, Potash said: “Advertising can support the e-book system. Authors, publishers and advertisers can all pay for page impressions.” Tomlinson suggested the system was similar to how Youtube worked with music publishers, embedding links to purchase songs within the music videos.

But Nicola Solomon, general secretary of the Society of Authors said: “I’m worried about the idea of advertising models. Libraries are there to curate reading, they are not jumble sales. It could take away their independence and the trust people have for the library service.” Cole agreed: “I flinch at the idea of adverts. Surely an idea of libraries is that you aren’t being sold to.” Mollet said: “It might be a necessary evil, but I hope not.”

Ursula Mackenzie, c.e.o. of Little, Brown and president of the PA (pictured), expressed concerns about the focus of libraries, saying: “Publishers have always supported libraries as a force for good, and that was done with the idea that libraries were focussed on those who found it difficult to otherwise access books, whether they were old, young, or unable to afford them. But now budgets that libraries would have spent on printed books is now going to e-books, when those who can afford e-readers and smart phones are those who can afford their own content.”

Potash said the rise of e-readers and apps should be of benefit to everyone, including publishers. “People with e-readers buy more books,” he insisted. “We should be giving out devices in hospitals to newborn babies.”

Platt said that more data needed to be gathered before conclusions about e-lending could be drawn. He said: “Over the last 12 months 28m items were borrowed from New York libraries. We have been lending e-books since 2004. Only 2% of those millions of items were e-books.” He also said they were working with the Harvard Business School to launch a major study of patterns of e-lending and buying e-books.

Other topics included the idea of “windowing” e-lending, so that frontlist titles could not be accessed for a period after their release, and the issue of how Amazon would impact on e-lending with their own system in place.

Tomlinson concluded by encouraging all attendees to use their expertise and submit evidence to the government’s e-lending panel, led by William Sieghart. The deadline for submissions is 5pm on November 6th, 2012.