Let us introduce ourselves. We’re a group of people from all over the country, who have got together because we believe that e-books and e-lending should be an important part of the service for public library users. We believe there is an urgent need for a more open and informed debate about the issues.Library staff are a key part of the group. At the moment, we comprise representatives from 19 public library authorities, one consultancy, and CILIP, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. One of our authorities is probably the biggest lender of e-books in the country; one authority has yet to start lending e-books at all.

A new ebook business model is being built, and we want to make sure that the public library features in it. Unlike printed books, many ebook titles that people can buy are not available from public libraries. Major publishers won’t allow it. So it’s not surprising that a quarter of our libraries don’t lend e-books (1).

We want public libraries to be able to seize the ebook opportunity. Public libraries are about books and reading. By the end of 2012, four out of ten library customers owned a device on which they could read e-books (2); since Christmas, that number will have risen enormously.

Reading is increasingly becoming a digital activity. Public libraries are open, impartial and inclusive and we believe they should fully support those customer who want to read ebooks.

New York public librarian Christopher Platt put it this way: ‘These challenges create an opportunity for libraries to confirm our integral role in the reading ecosystem. To succeed at this, and indeed to be taken seriously, we need to better understand the needs of the supply chain, match our value to those needs, and offer genuine ideas for how libraries can be a partner, rather than a threat. Whatever the future may be, it has to be one that satisfies the needs of everyone in that ecosystem, the readers most of all.’ (3)

So we’ll be pursuing these topics on this blog over the coming year, with the aim of raising awareness in the people who work in libraries, the book trade and of course amongst library users, and with the hope of keeping public libraries where they always have been: at the heart of the reading community.

If you want to contact us, email shelffree@gmail.com.

(1) Survey carried out by Surrey Library Service November 2012

(2) Ofcom: Communications Market Report 2012. http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/cmr/cmr12/CMR_UK_2012.pdf

(3) The value of public libraries in the e-reading ecosystem. Christopher Platt. Panlibus Magazine Issue 24 Summer 2012 [p8-9] http://www.capita-softwareandmanagedservices.co.uk/software/Documents/libraries-panlibus24.PDF


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