While one must salute the progress that has been made by SCL and the Publishers Association following the Sieghart review, perhaps it is not too churlish to float a few words of caution about plans for the e-lending pilots and in particular the current invitation to Library Authorities to tender for inclusion in the coming pilots.
While current plans are without doubt well intentioned and the prospect of co-operative working means that we are in a far better place than we were 12 months ago, if there had been time and opportunity for consultation, then current plans and the just released tender document could have been even better than they are. I am sure the Shelf Free community would have welcomed contributing positively to any draft proposals for example.
Firstly, as it stands the tender document has a very precise list of requirements, some of which like the separation of urban and rural pilots, could make it difficult for large Counties with a mix of population types, but vibrant e-lending services, to participate. Secondly, most of the weighting to chose participants is on technical matters which includes available budgets and there is no indication at this stage as to how much pilots are likely to cost. Thirdly, authorities are asked to produce management information, which of course they would be willing to do but without acknowledging that everyone will rely totally on e-book aggregators or the IT infrastructure to provide that. So the list of terms which authorities are asked to sign up to are somewhat out of their control. This leads on to the most important point. While the need for independent research and verification is entirely understandable, the appointment of a research company first and the appointment of e-book suppliers last in the process (they are to be ‘chosen’ in November/December) does risk getting matters in the wrong order. The success of the e-lending pilots will depend on having suitable platforms and e-lending services that will be able to test the variables that publishers have understandably stipulated. Let’s hope that there is enough in this economically for the e-book aggregators or suppliers when they join the process at the end of the year as their input is going to be vital.
For the moment, do we need to keep our fingers crossed?