WEBER COUNTY — The librarians are not happy ... and it’s not because someone is being loud in the quiet section.
They’re concerned that recent policy changes by Macmillan Publishers will restrict the public’s access to information.
Macmillan, one of five major publishers in the industry, recently restricted the number of eBooks the company will sell to libraries, according to a press release from the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts.
Under this policy change, which went into effect on Nov. 1, libraries will only be allowed to buy one copy of a Macmillan eBook in the first eight weeks after the book has been released, the press release says.
“I think it’s inappropriate for publishers to withhold information from those who rely upon public libraries, simply to make a few extra dollars,” said Lynnda Wangsgard, executive director of the Weber Count Library System. “It’s not the kind of relationship libraries have had with publishers traditionally. We’re sorry to see them make that decision, and ... we hope they’re going to consider.”
After the first eight weeks had elapsed since a Macmillan book was released, libraries can purchase additional copies, but those copies can’t be shared with other libraries.
The policy change does not apply to Macmillan eAudiobooks, printed books or CDs, the release says.
A group of suburban and rural libraries across the state, called Utah’s Online Public Library Overdrive Consortium, cooperates to lend electronic materials to their patrons.
In response to Macmillan’s policy change, the consortium’s administrative committee voted on Nov. 13 to join a nationwide boycott of Macmillan eBooks. The boycott is effective immediately and will last six months.
“Utah’s consortium is comprised of smaller suburban and rural libraries that depend on the shared resources to provide a wide range of books and other materials to their patrons,” the release says. “The costs to provide them individually would be prohibitive and ultimately limit the information available to their patrons.”
Most libraries in the state are part of the consortium, including the Weber County Library. The only library systems that don’t participate in the consortium are Davis County, Cache County, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and Murray.
The consortium reached out to member libraries before making the decision, said Randy Mueller, who oversees electronic media for Weber County Library. He also coordinates with the consortium on behalf of the library.
Weber County Library leadership supported the decision because the new Macmillan policy would negatively affect patrons, Mueller said.
“For popular titles, one copy (during the first eight weeks) doesn’t really do anything,” said Mueller. “There’s a new book coming out, it’s a popular author ... we’d have 20, 30, 40, 50 of our Weber County patrons on hold for it. And then statewide, through the consortium, there would be hundreds of people on the waiting list, and there would be nothing we could do to buy more copies to satisfy those holds.”
The policy applies only to new releases, Mueller said, though the consortium has discouraged libraries from purchasing older Macmillan titles.
On Oct. 29, Macmillan CEO John Sargent shared an open letter explaining the rationale for the policy changes to the many librarians who had written him with their concerns.
He says that before the advent of digital lending, libraries were part of the publishing business model. Lending didn’t threaten the model because there were some logistical barriers to borrowing, like driving to the library and facing late fees if a book isn’t returned.
But without these barriers in digital lending, people are more likely to turn to the library and forego buying books.
“We believe the very rapid increase in the reading of borrowed e-books decreases the perceived economic value of a book,” Sargent wrote. “I know that you pay us for these e-books, but to the reader, they are free.”
“We are not trying to hurt libraries,” Sargent continues in the letter. “We are trying to balance the needs of the system in a new and complex world. We believe windowing for eight weeks is the best way to do that.”
Mueller doubts that the changes will that much of a benefit to the company, since other research shows that people who use libraries also tend to buy books.
Libraries also play an important marketing role for books and authors — a benefit Macmillan will lose by implementing this policy, he said.
There is a concern that if Macmillan successfully makes this policy change, other publishers may follow suit, Mueller said, and public libraries don’t want that to happen.
Weber County Library spends more than $100,000 a year on eBooks and eAudiobooks, apart from what the consortium spends.
“It’s a ... highly popular format,” Mueller said.