U.S libraries have made the most headway with e-books in libraries, but internationally, the situation remains problematic, according to a new report from the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). Noting a quickly changing e-book marketplace, IFLA officials say the latest report serves as an update to the group’s 2012 Background Paper on eLending, and the IFLA Principles for Library eLending. And overall, the situation is not looking good for libraries around the world.
“Taken globally, the current situation is patchwork at best,” the report concludes. “While clearly progress has been made in furthering the availability of e-books in libraries in some jurisdictions, it often also appears to be examples of ‘two steps forward, one step back’ or even in some cases lost ground.”
While acknowledging "improvements in library title availability in some e-book markets, most notably the U.S.," the “overriding e-book issues for libraries continue to be the withholding of content and the imposition of problematic and differing license terms and conditions by major trade publishers,” and "a lack of consistency by individual multinational trade publishers in e-book licensing practices from country to country."
The report notes the difficulties faced by libraries in various territories in acquiring and lending e-books, as well as acknowledging the difficulty of gathering and comparing e-book statistics from region to region. But the report also takes a broad view—noting that the very idea of an e-book is changing, as is the way we access content in the digital environment, and the increased competition for readers’ attention on multiformat tablets and phones.
The report also notes concerns with the various models used by e-book and information providers, in one section notably taking stock of the advent of subscription e-book access.
“Netflix pioneered a hugely successful monthly subscription service which provides access to a large selection of streamed movies and television programs, which has reduced reliance on older supply models: video rental stores, broadcast television, libraries,” the report notes. “Such bundling services may well come to dominate the distribution of certain categories of e-books,” it concludes, providing “a serious challenge to the role of libraries” as commercial subscription providers will likely view the libraries as direct competition. “The tension between commercial content providers with a profit motive and libraries with a free access to information motive will intensify when the service provided, a large curated collection of e-books, appears to be the same.”