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Publishers’ embargo on eBooks ‘could be crippling’ to Edmonton libraries

WATCH ABOVE: (From Aug. 30, 2019) New restrictions that publishers are putting on e-books could cause problems for Edmonton's libraries. Emily Mertz explains.

Edmonton Public Library is joining a North America-wide network that’s urgently calling on publishers to revamp a growing licensing system for the kind of eBook you could read on a Kindle or other electronic device.

READ MORE: Cost of ebooks, audiobooks ‘not a sustainable model’ for Canadian libraries, council says

Large multi-national publishers are bringing in embargoes that restrict the number of copies of a title in each city or town no matter the size, the number of times that eBook can be loaned, or the length of time it can be made available.

“It will be crippling if we can’t sort it out,” said Coun. Ben Henderson after raising the issue at Tuesday’s council meeting.

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Henderson is the city council representative on the board of Edmonton Public Library and said the issue has been growing the last three or four years.

Sharon Day, the director of branch services and collections for EPL, said one of the big five — MacMillan Publishers — is bringing in a new embargo in November. She said the final details aren’t known yet, but on any popular title, Edmonton would be allowed one single copy for the entire city.

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“You can imagine the wait lists,” she told Global News.

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“It’ll take eight full weeks before we’ll be able to buy any additional copies to provide access. Knowing that you can keep a copy of a title for three weeks and that there may be 1,000 people on one title wait list — imagine the amount of time it’s going to take to get your hands on something that might be important to you.”

“People don’t understand that the restrictions are being set by the publishers so it looks like the libraries are doing something silly.”

Council voted to join the lobbying effort as a means of getting the federal government involved.

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“The Canadian Urban Libraries Council is partnering with the Urban Libraries Council (the American counterpart) and so there’s a lot of libraries that fall under that network so (there’s) a North America-wide campaign that we’re working on,” Day said. “We want to be reaching out to the public, to creators, to authors, to Amazon, to publishers to elected officials and we’re working to make this part of the public conversation of what’s happening right now.

“For the most part, most people are unaware that this is even a thing.”

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Day said the problem has escalated in the last little while.

“It took libraries a long time to get at this digital content. But then we went through a period of relative calm where at least we knew what we were dealing with. We had some challenges but we knew what they were. In the past six months to a year, we’ve been seeing that this model has come around and there’s been a number of significant changes.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Public Library pushes publishers for lower e-book prices

One message council concentrated on was how libraries fit into a democracy.

“It either will have huge access problems down the road for the essence of why we have a library, or huge cost implications, or both,” Henderson said.

“I’ll start writing,” Mayor Don Iveson said after the unanimous vote to join the campaign.