IFLA Report: Library Ebook Lending Worldwide Lags Behind U.S.

Major publishers have widened U.S. libraries’ access to their catalogs in recent months, but as a new background paper from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) asserts, that isn’t happening everywhere around the world.

According to the report, “the overriding ebook issues for libraries continue to be the withholding of content and the imposition of problematic and differing license terms and conditions by major trade publishers.”

While the authors of the IFLA paper make clear that the U.S. is ahead of the worldwide curve in many regards, “the situation is volatile, with the potential for improvement or erosion in ebook availability ever present.” Disparate models for distributing ebooks to libraries is one culprit; in the U.S., there’s a rough split between licenses allowing multiple users for limited periods and those permitting single-user access for limitless terms. While libraries continue to welcome and advocate for greater availability and a more systematic approach, much work remains to be done.

That’s especially true abroad, where disagreement over what constitutes an ebook bedevils e-lending to an arguably greater degree than in the U.S. To help resolve this persistent roadblock at a time when the array of digital content available to consumers is evolving rapidly everywhere, the IFLA paper lays out a six-point definition of an “ebook,” placing the emphasis on the content itself rather the device or platform used to access it.

The complete definition, plus in-depth comparisons of various countries’ e-lending models, and recommendations for librarians to continue to streamline and widen public access to digital content, are all in the IFLA background paper available here.

One thought on “IFLA Report: Library Ebook Lending Worldwide Lags Behind U.S.

  1. Michael W. Perry

    That the U.S. leads is hardly surprising. We were founded and grew thanks to risk-takers who left Europe and other parts of the world to settle in a new land.

    The result was a cultural shift on both sides of the Atlantic. As each generation influenced the next, Europeans became more risk-adverse, in particularly turning to government to make life seem more secure. In the U.S. that factor worked in the opposite direction. Risk takers who came here created a more risk-tolerant culture and economy. That’s why reason why high-risk industries, particularly entertainment and new technology, do so much better here.

    My hunch is that European publishers will watch what happens in the U.S. before taking the plunge. But keep in mind the downside to that. While print books sales tends to stay within borders. It’s as easy to sell or lend ebooks from halfway around the world as it is from next door. If European countries arrive late to the ebook party, they may find most of the seats already taken by U.S. companies.

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