Nottinghamshire library service has become the first to institute a charge for e-book loans.
The service, which launched its e-book programme in August, charges £1 per book loan with payment taken via a PayPal account. Head of libraries Peter Gaw said: "It's quite a difficult budget situation and we felt we weren't in a position to provide it for free at a time when we were cutting back on our hard copy book fund. Our provider is Askews, and the way it is set up, a charge clocks up on each loan. If e-books become very popular, we'd then have a bill we hadn't budgeted for."
The move has met with support from Mark Taylor, head of libraries for Windsor and Maidenhead, and chair of the digital working group for the Society of Chief Librarians. He said: "I don't think the Society, or our own public library, would be opposed to that [charging] if we could ensure our customers had access to what they wanted to read electronically."
However, campaigner Desmond Clarke said the £1-per-loan charge was "excessively high". He said: "I frankly don't think it's going to get anywhere. You can download a lot of books for free, or buy them for 99p. It's part of a policy that hasn't been thought through—there seems to be a lack of any common agreement of how to make the system work."
It is 18 months since the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced that it would not be illegal for libraries to charge for e-books under the current law. At the time Martin Palmer, principal officer for libraries, at Essex, warned it contradicted the ethos of public libraries to charge for books. He said: "It's basically reading and we don't charge for reading. I don't see why e-books should be any different to print books."