Rhode Island’s libraries are pushing back against what critics say are unfair restrictions on e-book pricing and availability on the part of publishers – and the assistant director of the Cranston Public Library is helping to lead the charge.
The Rhode Island Library Association, of which Julie Holden serves as president, recently hosted U.S. Rep. David Cicilline during a roundtable forum at East Providence’s Weaver Library focused on the e-book issue. State Sen. Mark McKenney, who represents District 30 in Warwick, and members of the public were also part of the discussion.
“It was great … We are thankful to Congressman Cicilline for taking the time to listen to our concerns, as recent market changes in the publishing industry have put libraries in an unsustainable position,” Holden said.
Primarily at issue is the decision by Macmillan Publishers – one of the so-called “big five” publishing companies – to institute a new “embargo” policy that limits libraries to the purchase of a single copy of an electronic version of a title during the first eight weeks following its release.
The restriction went into effect in November, and Holden said the company has indicated it will review the policy in March. Meanwhile, concerns have also been raised over the practices of Amazon, which does not sell any of its e-books to libraries.
In the wake of Macmillan decision, the Rhode Island Library Association has joined the #eBooksForAll campaign. The effort – which, as of Monday, had garnered more than 250,000 signatures through an online petition – seeks reversal of Macmillan’s policy and restoration of “full access to its complete e-book catalog.”
“America’s libraries are committed to promoting literacy and a love of reading with diverse collections, programs and services for all ages,” reads a message on the campaign’s website, ebooksforall.org. “Libraries are invested in making sure millions of people can discover and explore new and favorite authors through digital and print collections. Downloadable content and eBooks are often many reader’s front door to accessing material at their local library.”
The message continues: “This is personal. This embargo limits libraries’ ability to provide access to information for all. It particularly harms library patrons with disabilities or learning issues.”
Holden said e-books represent 13 percent of overall library circulation statewide, with the Cranston and Warwick systems being the largest users of e-books.
She also said the Rhode Island Library Association is also exploring potential legal options related to Macmillan’s embargo.
According to a press release issued following the roundtable, the American Library Association – as part of the #eBooksForAll campaign – recently submitted a report to Congress outlining “practices by companies like Amazon and Macmillan Publishers that threaten Americans’ right to read what and how they choose and imperil other fundamental First Amendment freedoms.” The report, the release states, was submitted following a request from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, which Cicilline chairs.
“As the chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee leading a bipartisan investigation into the state of competition in the digital marketplace, I’m particularly interested in potentially anticompetitive practices harming libraries and their users, especially in Rhode Island,” Cicilline said in the release. “I’m grateful that the Rhode Island Library Association put together today’s roundtable so we could discuss these issues in detail. I look forward to continuing our work together as the investigation wraps up and legislative fixes are introduced later this year.”