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Cover for ALA eBook reports

Cover for ALA eBook reports

Dear Councilors:

I wanted to report on our recent meeting with the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

ALA president Molly Raphael, Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) director Alan Inouye, and I met with Tom Allen and Tina Jordan, President and Vice President respectively, of AAP on September 15, 2011, at their New York office. Our goals for this meeting were to articulate some of the major issues of the library community regarding e-books and to attempt to establish an ongoing relationship with AAP to address these issues. I’m pleased to report that we received a favorable reception and discussed these issues with candor.

Our main points:

Because the needs of libraries vary, licensing arrangements need to offer options that reflect this diversity in library requirements. At the same time, we pointed out that innovation in licensing arrangements also may provide publishers with improved marketing opportunities. AAP expressed great interest in ALA initiatives to identify new licensing options and models, a process that is already underway at OITP.

Secondly, e-books need to be available to libraries at a reasonable cost. Libraries and library lending represent an important component of the reading and publishing “ecosystem”. Libraries purchase billions of dollars of books and e-books each year, and play a key role in developing the readers that are fundamental to a vibrant publishing industry. While AAP as a non-profit corporation cannot directly influence commercial activity, they did express a willingness to facilitate discussions and the sharing of information between libraries and individual publishers. 

We also discussed our concern that some publishers won’t sell to libraries at all. While only the publishers themselves can change this policy, AAP could help to broker meetings between ALA and these publishers - which they have agreed to do.

We raised several other issues concerning e-books:

Archiving and preservation are among the responsibilities of libraries. Indeed, libraries are core to ensuring the preservation of the nation’s cultural heritage. But the access necessary to fulfill these responsibilities often is not permitted in current licenses. Libraries need to be able to provide durable, permanent access to e-books as they do with paper books. This is also critical in supporting the needs of researchers, who need access to broad collections of materials. 

Privacy is also fundamental to the library community, and is much easier to protect when a library has exclusive control over borrower records and a patron has direct control over the circumstances of reading. E-book licenses and access arrangements can challenge this control and raise serious questions for the library community.

Accessibility for persons with disabilities was also discussed. Again, e-books open up significant opportunities for those who cannot use standard printed texts, but publishers will need to work with libraries in order to make sure that this expanded access is a reality.

All in all, we found Tom and Tina to be very much interested in understanding our library perspective, and in suggesting ways in which we might work together to resolve these issues. While we understand that these complex issues will take some time to resolve, we believe that we have made a positive start. We also agreed that Alan Inouye would work on an ongoing basis with AAP in following up on some of the joint areas of interest outlined above.

We have discussed the need for some statement of principles and talking points about library issues and needs, and we are pleased to report that this work is moving along. In preparing for this meeting, we used a series of working documents developed by the OITP E-book Task Force. These documents are E-book Lending and America's Libraries, E-book Principles for the Library Community and Talking Points on Library Lending of E-books. Please note that these draft documents, which are attached, are still works in progress that will be need to be discussed and refined by ALA's new working group on digital content and the ALA membership over the coming months as we communicate our issues and concerns to publishers and the public.

I should also report that we were able to briefly join a meeting of about twenty library representatives from major New York publishing houses that Tina Jordan was hosting that afternoon. We took this opportunity to share our issues and concerns, and found this group extremely interested in exploring how we could work together to resolve them. 

In conclusion, I believe that we made a good start—but it is only a start. There will be much to discuss, debate, and agonize over, as the business models for publishers and libraries are undergoing fundamental change. Based on the positive reception we found, however, we do look forward to continuing and cooperative work between AAP and ALA to address library issues and concerns.

We will keep everyone posted as we move forward.


  1. p.s. This report has also been posted on the AL Inside Scoop Blog at

Keith Michael Fiels

Executive Director

American Library Association

50 East Huron Street

Chicago, Illinois 60611

(312) 280-1392

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