Between the lines
Local library meets resistance in effort to increase e-book lending
Kimberlee Wheeler, community outreach coordinator for the Butte County Library, has been working on getting both e-books and audio books available to local branch libraries for the past couple of years. Her efforts are a work in progress.
“It is a younger collection,” she said, “so it isn’t going to be tons and tons just yet, but it is something we can offer.”
On a recent afternoon, rows of cars were parked outside the Chico branch as people congregated inside to access the thousands of books that have long lined the walls and bookshelves. But there is a change taking place within, as more and more readers turn to electronic readers.
“[E-books have] definitely gone up in demand since we first got our system in 2010,” Wheeler said. “During the holiday season when people get their e-readers as a gift there is a surge in the use as well.”
Wheeler said it is important for libraries to keep up with changes in technology in order to maintain community members’ interest in reading.
“If we didn’t offer e-books and digital media, we would be missing out on a really important part of library lending,” she said.
But lending e-books to the public is a complicated endeavor.
Lately, by offering e-books to patrons, libraries across the country have raised concern among some of the nation’s top six publishers: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster.
Simon & Schuster and Macmillan have refused to offer e-books for distribution by libraries. The other four have offered e-books to libraries, but with certain limitations. According to the American Library Association’s website, Penguin has a pilot program that allows two New York libraries to lend its e-books; Hachette offers its older books to libraries, but is exploring ways to offer new releases; HarperCollins allows libraries to lend an e-book 26 times before they must renew the license to access the e-book again; and Random House attaches steep costs to its e-book access.
Since there has been hesitation from publishers to make e-books available for libraries to purchase and lend, it is hard for the library to keep its electronic collection as diverse and full as its printed collection.
“The Department of Justice lawsuits that are happening with the big six publishers have made it so we are only really able to access about half of the best-seller list at any given time,” Wheeler said.
These lawsuits originated when the big six publishers allegedly broke antitrust laws with their regulations of e-books sales and distribution. Fortunately, a lot of the lawsuits have recently started to settle out, said Wheeler.
However, on Feb. 15 three independent bookstores, two in New York and one in South Carolina, filed a class-action complaint on behalf of all independent bookstores against the big six and Amazon. The suit says the defendants have created a monopoly on both traditional and e-book sales that is designed to control prices and destroy independent booksellers.
Chico-based publisher Heidelberg Graphics knows that e-books are becoming more popular and that the market for them is here to stay.
“We are starting to offer the printed book as an e-book,” said Larry Jackson, company owner. “They are both available.”
Heidelberg Graphics publishes books in a wide range of genres, and Jackson said the company publishes all types of books except children’s. Jackson has yet to receive any orders from libraries for e-books, he said, but does have a policy in place for how to deal with the situation when it arises.
“We don’t like to make the books freely available,” he said, “but we do make the books available so they could be on loan for a short period of time, and that would apply to a library as well.”
Jackson supports the trend of e-books, but stressed his love for printed books. “There is nothing better than holding a printed book in your hands,” he said.
Despite the difficulties, the Butte County Library purchases new e-books for its customers about once a month. These books are available on its website to be shared with community members in all six branches.
The Butte County Library, which marks its 100th anniversary this November, will have offered e-books for three years come April.
“I hope the anniversary will draw more attention and that we will see an increase in use of all the services we offer, including e-books,” Wheeler said.