City of Powell River councillors have voiced support for a statement on equitable public access to electronic books (e-books).
At the Tuesday, December 3, committee of the whole meeting, councillors heard from Powell River Public Library chief librarian Rebecca Burbank, who addressed the issue of restrictive practices regarding e-books by publishers.
Burbank said e-book use has gone up 99 per cent in Powell River in the past four years. According to a letter from Burbank to committee of the whole, the library anticipates that 22,000 digital books will be circulated to its patrons in 2019.
“This is a resource that is widely used,” she said.
Burbank added that e-books have advantages over print books, such as the ability to change or increase font size and modify brightness. Some people have difficulty with the weight of print books but can manage the weight of e-book readers.
Burbank said these books are also advantageous to people in rural areas because they do not have to come into the library to access them. During the past couple of years public libraries have been moving toward e-resources but are facing increasing prices and complicated licensing agreements, she added.
“It’s more challenging for libraries to offer these resources to the public,” said Burbank.
Starting November 1, one of the larger publishers, Macmillan, imposed an embargo on public libraries, said Burbank.
“Their argument is public libraries are eroding their profits,” she said. “The evidence we have is contrary. Library users are more likely to purchase print material. Library users buy more books.”
Macmillan’s embargo is going to limit access and there is concern that other large publishers will follow suit.
“People get frustrated because they can’t read the titles they want to read,” said Burbank.
Councillor George Doubt said e-books are an important part of publishing and literature and should be available to the library.
Councillor Rob Southcott, council’s representative on the library board, said the initiative by Macmillan was a challenge to democracy. He said he acknowledges that businesses have the right to restrict those that they want to do business with. He added that books and e-books are in the same arena in that society has been dependent upon written materials since writing and publishing began.
“I find it no less shocking now than when I first heard about it,” said Southcott. “I’m really glad we’ll write and I’m really hoping that it has an effect.”
The committee provided unanimous consent to have mayor Dave Formosa sign the Canadian Urban Libraries Council’s statement on equitable public access to e-books.