Librarians of the world unite: call for action on ebooks

The terrible lawsuit against the Open Library for daring to increase access to books during the Covid pandemic is not just an attack on the Internet Archive’s selfless work. It is a broader attack on the very idea of the library, and on the vital services that libraries provide to society. These include offering ready access to information, education, research and culture in a way that is available to all, regardless of their income or social status.

As library associations across Europe write in a new joint letter, libraries also “support a healthy civic and community life, underpin science and innovation, and ensure the safeguarding of the memory of the world.” The publishing industry’s attack on the Internet Archive is thus a threat to all those vital functions provided by libraries.

The library associations rightly worry that the current forms of ebook publishing are “subverting the ability of libraries to perform their traditional and essential functions”. In order to allow libraries to continue to carry out their important role in society, the joint letter calls on governments to act on three fronts:

Guarantees in law that libraries shall be able to acquire, preserve and electronically lend digitised analogue and born-digital works, such as eBooks, on the same basis as they lend physical works. This will enable more constructive negotiations between libraries and rightholders.

Work to ensure that eLending platforms operate in ways that work best for libraries, their users and authors.

Aside from copyright reform and market regulation, support further investigation into the dynamics of eBook markets and their impacts on the achievement of public interest goals. This will also serve to inform wider cultural, education and research policies.

For historical reasons, libraries tend to be underestimated as a force, but when librarians are roused to action they are a formidable group. Given the seriousness of the threat, it’s good to see these associations coming together in this way with their joint letter. Let’s hope others around the world join them in this important fight – and that governments get the message and act.

Featured image by naknaknak.

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