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Libraries concerned about price and accessibility of eBooks

The Canadian Urban Libraries Council wants to talk about access to eBooks and eAudiobooks for libraries and their patrons with a new campaign

Downloading a new song, movie or TV show has never been easier in the digital age.

Getting your hands on a digital copy of the latest best seller at your local library may not be that easy.

Now, the Canadian Urban Libraries Council wants to shine a light on the issue of access to eBooks and eAudiobooks for libraries and their patrons with a new campaign. The CULC aims to highlight the high cost of digital copies of books compared to what they pay for a physical copy and also the lack of access to a digital copy of some big titles.

"It can be very frustrating for people who are used to going online and download something immediately and not to put a hold on something," said Gwen Fisher, head librarian at the Moose Jaw Public Library.

Major multinational publishes -- the so-called 'Big Five' -- aren't making some best-selling titles available to Canadian libraries and that includes prominent Indigenous works and Canadian titles including Scotiabank Giller Prize nominees and Canada Reads titles.

"With the way the copyright is on them we might have to buy several digital copies to meet demand of people who want to read it immediately," Fisher said. "We're still trying to meet the demand in the digitial sphere."

Unlike say a streaming service like Netflix, the copyright on many eBooks is the same as a physical book, only one patron can access the content at one time.

"With the big publishers that's one of the major issues. We want to meet the demand, but if we have to buy three copies at $80 when we could buy three hardcover copies for $30 or $40 it becomes really prohibitive for us," Fisher said.

Digital content is the fastest growing area of borrowing for public libraries.

The copyrights can vary for individual publishers. HarperCollins requires digital copies must be re-purchased after 26 checkouts. With Macmillan re-purchasing occurs after either 52 checkouts or 24 months, whichever comes first. Penguin Random House is 24 months and Simon & Schuster is 12 months.

The 'Big Five' have about two-thirds of the market share in Canada. Independent publishers and French-language publishers in Québec offer their digital content at significantly lower rates.

"I hope this does draw attention to it," Fisher said. "The public voice is strong, as we've learned in libraryland."

The demand for electronic content isn't slowing. In Canada's six biggest centres eAudiobook use went up 82 per cent in the last three years. That growth isn't as pronounced locally, but Fisher said interest is still strong.

"We've seen an increase with Hoopla, that's one of the platforms we offer eBooks on. We also offer Audiobooks. They continue to see a large increase, but I would say the arc is not as sharp as it once was for eBooks," Fisher said.

"We definitely aren't abandoning print at this point, but we want to make (eBooks) a good service and make it easy to use as well."

The Canadian Urban Libraries Council is a national library group that represents 45 members and accounts for approximately 80 per cent of Canada's public library activity.

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