eLending: What are the issues?

The number of libraries offering access to downloadable eBooks is growing fast in response to demands of users who have enthusiastically embraced eReaders and tablets. While the growth is predominantly seen in North American and European markets, with pockets found in parts of Asia and Australiasia, the move to digital content will be seen all over the world in the near future.

Against this rising user demand, libraries are confronting the new reality where in some instances they are constrained from acquiring commercially available eBooks for their collections. Faced with changing reader demands and an uncertain economic future, trade publishers and authors are exploring a variety of approaches to deliver their publications to the marketplace including withholding sales to libraries where this is believed to undermine overall sales and royalties.

This undermines the traditional role of the library in ensuring societal access over time to written culture. Furthermore, it clearly removes the library’s ability to develop an acquisition policy in line with the needs of their users.

In the IFLA context, consideration of the issues surrounding eBooks is especially complex for a variety of reasons:

  • The structure and operations of the publishing and library sectors country to country can differ substantially.
  • In many countries digital library collections are underdeveloped and consumers do not have access to eReaders, tablets and eBooks.
  • There is a diverse range of eBook platforms and standards in the market which are often not compatible and, in the case of library applications, not user friendly or accessible.
  • Different types of libraries have differing requirements for digital content, most notably academic/research libraries and public libraries.
  • Scholarly and trade publishing have fundamentally different business models and take very different approaches for digital sales to libraries.
  • The transition from print to digital is raising new legal issues for policymakers to address, especially in the area of copyright and its underlying principles which have enabled library lending in the print era.
  • The same transition, and the potential for digital lending models to collect and store large amounts of information on users’ reading habits, raises fears regarding the protection of user privacy.

The rise of commercial dissemination of written content in digital form has imposed a new and challenging reality for libraries, publishers and authors. Evolving and escalating changes in reader expectations fueled by technological change are calling into question traditional service delivery and business models.

You can read more about the issues facing libraries in the IFLA eLending Background Paper, as well as the IFLA Principles for Library eLending.

IFLA published a supplement to its eLending Background Paper in 2014

Last update: 8 August 2016