One of the current CILIP campaigns is the “Right to E-Read” http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/advocacy-campaigns-awards/advocacy-campaigns/ebooks/let-libraries-lend-ebooks which has generated a lot of interest and comments. I have to admit that some of these are about semantics - as in “this is a right to e-loan rather than a right to e-read campaign” – which is quite ironic as the very business itself (ie: publishing) plays around with words to attract people. After all, how many of us have picked up a book with a rather interesting title and tagline only to discover that the story itself bears no resemblance? Besides, the campaign has a byline “let libraries lend e-books” which is self-explanatory.
This campaign is nothing to do with the desires of librarians, it is to do with people’s right to borrow and read books, regardless of their format. Imagine if a publisher decided not to let school libraries buy and loan books by a specific author? There’s probably enough other authors that we could use to stock our shelves but I would not be happy with the fact that my students were being discriminated against and I would argue for their right to be able to borrow said books. And what if a book is only published electronically? By preventing it from being borrowed, you are, effectively, preventing people from reading it.
I’ve also read comments such as “there’s nothing stopping anyone in our country reading words electronically generated” … but there is. It’s the same thing that inhibits people from just going out and buying any books they want whenever they want them, and that’s money. And, once again, it’s the disadvantaged and vulnerable that will lose out. Not to mention the disabled, those who physically cannot get to their local library. It’s also important not to assume that because somebody has an ereader they can afford to buy ebooks. Ereaders are relatively cheap and most electronic gadgets are capable of downloading ebooks. Besides, anyone who lives with or works with a voracious reader will know that there’s no way you can financially keep up with their book consumption – I’m a good example of this. I couldn’t afford to buy all the books I read. And I know many students with ereaders who still borrow numerous books from their school library each week; and I’m sure their parents could not pay for all these books outright.
We do need to think about the financial impact on authors and publishers but I’m not sure why this would be difficult. Borrowing of ebooks could be done in the same way as physical books (ie: with a certain number of “copies” bought by the library for loan and each book loaned for a specific time) and borrowing statistics could be generated by the LMS, regardless of where the reader was when the book was borrowed, thus enabling payments to be made under PLR. But it’s a fact that libraries create readers and readers become book buyers so how can an author not benefit from having their books available to loan as ebooks? Surely this opens their work to a wider audience?
And would having ebooks available for loan reduce the number of physical visits to libraries? Maybe, for some of the public. But many would still go to the library, for all sorts of reasons. You’d think, working in a library and having access to all sorts of books (I’m often sent proof copies to read and books to review) that I wouldn’t need to use my public library. But I do. Frequently. And often I don’t really know what I’m looking for, I go in to browse, have a mooch around and always come out with an armful of random titles! I have also, subsequently, bought books that I have borrowed and read, books that I have decided I want to own personally. So the argument that if you could borrow ebooks then you’d never ever buy a book again isn’t quite true. Because I’m sure that I’m not the only person who does this …