In May 2012 IFLA released a Background Paper on eLending which discussed the situation facing public libraries seeking to lend eBooks to their users. The paper discussed the challenges facing libraries as a result of an increase in access to eReading devices among library users and a corresponding enthusiasm for access to digital reading content. In particular it highlighted a damaging lack of access to popular eBook titles due to publisher restrictions on their license or sale to libraries and cautioned of broad negative societal implications if digital content is withheld from library collections.

The paper recognised that the situation was still emerging, with growth occurring predominantly in North American, European and some Asian markets, likely followed in other regions of the world. It also noted that more research needed to take place with regards to core library principles in the context of digital library collections, especially for downloadable trade eBooks.

In October 2012 IFLA therefore commissioned an independent consultant, Civic Agenda, to prepare a ‘thinkpiece’ to inform discussion at a meeting of experts from the library and publishing sector. This meeting took place over three days at IFLA Headquarters in The Hague in November 2012. The thinkpiece was the starting point for discussions on desirable characteristics for public access models for library digital content, library user expectations’ regarding eBooks, and the relationship between libraries and publishers in the eBook age. During the meeting participants focused on the role of copyright, licensing and legislation in access to digital content like eBooks, as well as reviewing advocacy campaigns and the potential for IFLA as an advocate for library access to eBooks.

The IFLA Principles for Library eLending are the outcome of the meeting, and the contribution of the experts in The Hague was crucial to their drafting. The ‘thinkpiece’ was commissioned to spark debate and its content, along with a detailed appendix assessing the characteristics of existing models of eBook provision, provided  useful background material ahead of the meeting and a reference point during discussion . The ‘thinkpiece’ is a standalone document, and is not IFLA policy. It is made available here so that colleagues can reflect on its content and engage in discussions on the subject of eBooks in the context that best suits them.

The Thinkpiece: ‘Libraries, eLending, and the Future of Public Access to Digital Content

Libraries, eLending, and the Future of Public Access to Digital Content’ – Matrix: Models of Accessing Digital Content

The Thinkpiece was supported in part by a grant from the Open Society Foundation