With service to more than 2 million people, The Seattle Public Library and King County Library System share a central mission: Providing universal access to information and ideas.
In our increasingly digital age, we cannot fulfill that mission without providing access to digital materials, including e-books and e-audiobooks. Together, our two library systems checked out more than 7 million digital books to patrons last year, making us among the leading public libraries in the world for digital lending.
Our ability to connect our patrons to digital materials, however, is threatened. On Nov. 1, Macmillan Publishing, one of the country’s biggest publishers, is launching a library e-book embargo, meaning that for the first eight weeks after publication, public libraries — no matter their size — may purchase just one copy of a new e-book.
Macmillan books recently or soon to be published include “Me,” by Elton John, “Permanent Record,” by Edward Snowden, and “We Are the Weather,” by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Macmillan’s plan will have a serious impact on library users, especially those with the fewest resources and the most barriers. Readers with disabilities, such as poor vision and dyslexia, for example, are especially reliant on e-books. For library users who count on us to provide them with the latest books and materials, it means that wait periods will be the longest just when demand is the highest.
Macmillan’s policy is part of a growing trend among the nation’s biggest publishers to charge public libraries higher prices for e-books and e-audiobooks and to restrict their access. Its rationale is that they lose sales of electronic books to libraries as customers forego buying and instead borrow.
However, studies — and common sense — suggest the opposite, that libraries are an essential part of the publishing ecosystem that promotes books, reading and learning. One study compiled by the Panorama Project showed that 50% of all library users report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library. Patrons “try out” books with us and then go back and purchase their favorites for their personal libraries and as gifts.
There are an estimated 116,867 libraries in the United States. As more and more people choose to read on their tablets and phones, we join libraries across the country in asking Macmillan to reverse its policy so that we can continue to meet readers’ needs both online and in print. Tens of thousands of readers have already added their names to a petition launched by the American Library Association at eBooksForAll.org.
Whether you are a cardholder with the Seattle Public Library, the King County Library System or any of the other 60 public library systems in Washington state, we encourage you to stand with us and work toward a more just outcome for the greater reading community.
You can make your voice heard on this issue by emailing Macmillan and asking it to change its policy: firstname.lastname@example.org, or providing feedback using the Twitter hashtag #eBooksForAll.
As always, and especially during this time, we hope that you will continue to support your local libraries and our mission. More importantly, use this time to browse our shelves and online catalog. We are certain that you will uncover new authors, find old favorites and understand the role libraries play in providing you access to your educational, informational and reading interests.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.