Strict limits on library ebook lending must end

The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals has called for the end of stringent limitations on ebook lending through public libraries.

Unlike with printed books, libraries do not have the right to lend ebooks. Out of the six major trade publishers in the UK only three – HarperCollins, Random House and Hachette – offer some of their ebooks to libraries.

Research conducted in February 2013 by Shelf Free, an independent group set up and led by librarians to raise awareness of the opportunities and issues around e-books in public libraries, found that 85% of ebooks were not available to public libraries.

Out of the top 50 most borrowed adult fiction books of 2012, only 7 were made available by publishers for libraries to e-lend – and even then it depended on which supplier the library service was signed up to. With one supplier, only two titles were available.

Barbara Band, CILIP President, said:

“Public libraries play a vital role providing everyone with the opportunity to read, and access information and knowledge, whether via print or ebooks. We need copyright legislation that is fit for purpose in the digital age and provides reasonable payment for authors and publishers.

There have been positive steps to make more e-books available for lending, through e-lending pilots and the Sieghart Review of e-lending. But we are still failing to take advantage of the benefits ebooks can bring – to develop essential literacy skills, to interest more people in reading, and to build a knowledgeable, informed and connected society. Libraries should have the same statutory right to lend ebooks as they do physical books.”

Rights holders, often publishers, are able to decide whether to make ebooks available to lend through libraries or not, which they cannot do with printed books. Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide public library services. Under the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act local authorities must “lend books and other printed material free of charge for those who live, work or study in the area.”

The difference in treatment of printed and e-books stems from copyright law where the printed book is regarded as a commodity that can be purchased and sold on to others, while e-books are “communicated to the public”, which can only be done under licence. This means libraries are not able to purchase and lend ebooks in the same way they purchase and lend physical books.

CILIP is supporting a European-wide campaign for the right to e-read, which calls for the statutory right of public libraries across the European Union to purchase e-books and make them available for lending, as part of a revised European copyright framework – which is currently being consulted by the EU. The campaign culminates in E-reading Day on 23 April 2014, which is UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day.

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Press contact:

Mark Taylor, Director of External Relations, CILIP
Tel: 020 7255 0654
Mobile: 07792 635 305
Email: mark.taylor@cilip.org.uk

Notes to editors:

1. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals is the leading professional body for librarians, information specialists and knowledge managers. CILIP’s vision is a fair and economically prosperous society underpinned by literacy, access to information and the transfer of knowledge. CILIP is a registered charity, no. 313014. Visit www.cilip.org.uk for more information.

2. Shelf Free comprises representatives from public library authorities, a consultancy, and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. 

3. CILIP’s briefing on the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act

4. The European-wide campaign for the right to e-read is organised by the European Bureau of Library Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA). 

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