The King County Library System (KCLS) will no longer purchase newly-released eBooks from Macmillan Publishers, one of five major publishers in the U.S., effective Nov. 1.
This decision comes after months of discussion and advocacy to urge Macmillan to reconsider instituting a new library eBook embargo, set to go into effect on November 1. Under Macmillan’s new lending model, public libraries of any size will only be allowed to purchase one copy of a newly-released eBook for the first eight weeks after publication.
As a large library system, KCLS maintains a “Holds to Copy” ratio of 5-to-1 to minimize wait times for popular titles. This means that for every five holds on a title, KCLS purchases one copy to ensure a maximum wait time of only three months. If KCLS is limited to one digital copy of each new title, and then had to wait eight weeks before being able to purchase more, patrons could conceivably wait years rather than months for their eBook.
“Digital equity and access to information is at stake,” states KCLS Executive Director Lisa Rosenblum. “KCLS’ central mission is to provide free and equal access to information, and libraries must be able to perform this essential role in the digital realm as well. We do not want other publishers to follow the example of Macmillan and embargo books. To do so profoundly changes the public library.”
For KCLS, a library system with 50 libraries, serving more than one million residents, the new embargo hits King County patrons particularly hard. KCLS has been the top digital-circulating library in the U.S. for the last five years and third worldwide. According to Rakuten OverDrive, KCLS patrons downloaded nearly five million eBooks and audiobooks last year.
To continue to ensure reasonable wait times for newly-released electronic titles, KCLS will divert its eBook funds to publishers who are willing to sell to libraries without a purchasing embargo. They will, however, continue to purchase Macmillan titles that are not embargoed, including print materials and older copies of best-selling eBooks.
The American Library Association (ALA) has also denounced Macmillan’s decision and asks that the public express their concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org, or ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office at email@example.com.