Libraries are having to engage in new discussions with publishers and booksellers over electronic books, similar to those already settled in the printed-book world and with loans of CDs and DVDs, says Association of Public Library Managers chair Ian Littleworth.
The question of e-book lending is discussed in a wide-ranging strategy document, flagged by Computerworld earlier this month and now published by the association. The main issue is that many publishers protect e-books in libraries with digital rights management which restricts the number of times the book can be issued before a fresh copy has to be bought. This stretches library budgets, Littleworth says.
"We can understand where the publishers are coming from, but we want to make e-books available to the maximum number of people," he says. A popular view among libraries, based on the strength of evidence from the world of printed books, is that lending can stimulate bookshop purchases. Many people on reading a good book from the library, will want to own it, says Littleworth. "We've been through this phase with printed books, and it's just a question of e-books not having the same maturity."
Discussion on with the Publishers Association of NZ on e-book lending is in progress, fronted by the National Library and the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (Lianza).
The strategy document discusses ways of broadening library services. The traditional catalogue can be extended into a "discovery" service, which will seamlessly bring in public databases and websites relevant to a search alongside relevant holdings at the library and other libraries in the region. For example, library discovery engines could directly access the holdings of DigitalNZ.
Now the National Library is administered by the Department of Internal Affairs, Littleworth suggests, it will be easier for libraries to play a role in the growing all-of-government and one-stop-shop profile of government ICT services to the public, as outlined in result areas 9 and 10 of the government's "Better Public Services" programme.
Under the pressure of a tight economy, the report suggests, libraries could profitably look at sharing services through digital networking. This is already happening to a limited extent, Littleworth says, with the Kotui service for centralised library management and information discovery, the nationwide Aotearoa People's Network Kaharoa and EPIC (Electronic Purchasing in Collaboration) for common access to publications and other information resources.
The strategy suggests libraries can become a space for innovators to collaborate, particularly in digital industries. "People in various creative professions [will] share a common workspace, synergising their talents and making best use of fixed-cost resources."
Asked whether this would verge on using public funds to compete in the commercial space of business incubators, Littleworth compares the suggestion to the idea, once put forward, that libraries would eliminate bookshops. It has proved not to be so, with public service and commercial providers operating mostly cordially side-by-side.