Harper Collins, Overdrive In Library E-Book Mess

February 26, 2011

Once upon a time. For all us librarians wondering how the fairy tale of e-books might play out, we’re seeing it become  a horror story instead. DRM (digital rights management is the term for technologies used to restrict/limit how digital materials are accessed) is the poisoned apple being used by publishers to kill a library’s ability to make e-books available to its  patrons. Prior to February 24th, Overdrive– a national vendor of digital materials to libraries, could offer customers e-book downloads on an unlimited basis. Harper Collins has just mandated a limit of 26 check-outs of its e-books through their vendors and distributors to libraries, including Overdrive. Even more troubling, Harper Collins wants to limit which patrons a library lends its digital materials to. But that’s another blog post.

Libraries are at an important crossroads regarding access to digital materials. We want to provide the services and materials our patrons want–in the formats they want. Those of us too small, read: too poor, to contemplate an Overdrive service on our own, purchase through a consortium. In the case of the Essex Library, we purchase Overdrive services through the LION Libraries consortium. With a limit of 26 check-outs on any given e-book—and you can anticipate other publishers will be climbing onto Harper Collins’ restrictive bandwagon, LION’s 365,000 patrons will find their ability to access Overdrive’s e-books so severely diminished as to be useless. Already there are publishers, including two of the largest, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster– who don’t allow any library circulation of their e-books.

What can libraries do to keep e-book patrons happy?

Author Cory Doctorow advocates a library boycott of all DRM-protected materials. Librarians across the country are disgusted, discouraged and angry. You can follow their comments on Twitter at the #hcod hashtag. None of this can be resolved until publishers come up with a viable business model for digital books. It won’t serve them well to distance their authors from potential readers, digital or print. The publishing industry as a whole is in trouble and alienating libraries who serve millions of readers by spending billions of dollars on materials just doesn’t seem productive. A call to arms, in the guise of library consortia joining together, collaborating and using their combined buying power to persuade publishers to loosen, or just plain lose, the restrictions on digital materials has been issued by librarian Matthew D. Hamilton.

We need a happy ending here for everyone…authors, publishers, vendors and readers.  Anybody got any great ideas?