eBooks provide an excellent illustration of the types of difficulties libraries face with electronic content.
eBooks have grown extremely popular in recent years, and in response libraries are experiencing a major increase in their ebook lending. The problem is that patrons want the same rights with ebooks that they would have with their print counterparts. DRM-restricted ebooks makes that impossible. A majority of ebook publishers have very restrictive licensing agreements. For each ebook title, libraries are forced to accept the terms negotiated with the vendor. Not only does this mean high prices that could even increase if an ebook ends up being more popular than expected, but the purchase of an ebook is essentially more like a lease, one in which most of the terms are dictated by the vendor.
S&S grants you a limited, personal, non-exclusive, revocable, non-assignable and non-transferable license to view, use and/or play a single copy of the Materials and download one copy of the Materials on any single computer for your personal, non-commercial home use only…
Many ebook vendors won’t even do business with libraries. Penguin withdrew its ebooks from Overdrive (one of the largest ebook vendors to libraries) in February, 2012. Publishers fear that with the rise of ebooks, unrestricted borrowing in libraries will hurt their own sales.
Thus, the remaining publishers who do offer ebooks to libraries either place heavy restrictions on lending or make libraries pay hefty increases for subscriptions. Random House has raised its price for ebooks to libraries and HarperCollins now demands that their ebooks be removed from the library’s digital collection and be repurchased after they have been checked out 26 times. Lending restrictions make interlibrary loan difficult.
eBook systems work on a check-out basis, where one patron is able to check out the book, removing it from use by any other users. This makes placing ebooks on reserve nearly impossible. Further, it is possible for a user to accidentally check out an ebook:
Two days ago, a student came to the reference desk looking for a copy of a book for which their professor had given them (and every person in their class) a syllabus which instructed them to locate the library’s ebook copy of an assigned text. This professor had probably looked in the catalog, discovered that the electronic copy of the text was listed and therefore not placed a print copy on reserve. The problem was that when this student came and asked for guidance in opening this ebook at the reference desk, the librarian went into the catalog with him, and opened up the electronic copy of the book. They could see/view/read the ebook for that moment. However, when the librarian hit the back button and tried to open it again, the ebook was no longer available. It said the book was “checked out” and could not be used. They hadn’t logged in to any accounts nor had the two realized they were “checking out” this title upon clicking. And since no one had logged in, essentially the book had been checked out to the ether.
alycia, Sad Reports from the Field, The Reader’s Bill of Rights for Digital Books (Feb. 13, 2012, 11:59), http://readersbillofrights.info/