After complaints from patrons about the lack of access to ebooks in libraries across the state, Connecticut lawmakers have passed a bill giving the state library’s board of trustees authority to create a state-wide ebook collection, accessible by anyone with a Connecticut library card.
Along with the authority to create a system for ensuring all Connecticut library card holders can access a collection of downloadable ebooks, state legislators have also made the resources to do so available, earmarking $2.2 million in the state budget which passed earlier this year to cover startup costs and initial collection development . [On January 13, 2015, the State Bond Commission approved the $2.2 million startup budget as well.]
“As the role of libraries changes, it’s critical that we continue to provide invaluable resources that support the educational advancement of Connecticut citizens in a digital age,” said Governor Dannel P. Malloy in a statement.
Resource sharing has long been a priority for Connecticut librarians. A small state with no county governments or library systems, library cards issued by any branch in Connecticut have long been accepted by all libraries in the state. Technology has complicated that arrangement, though, and in recent years, library users were disappointed to find that while they could use their card at any library, licensing restrictions meant that they often couldn’t check out ebooks from a library that hadn’t issued their card.
Patron protests over this issue led to the passage of a bill by state legislators that initially called for a radical adjustment to ebook pricing that would have required publishers to sell books to libraries at the same rates they charge consumers. During the legislative process, language in that bill was watered down to the point where it simply called for an investigation by the state Department of Consumer Protection, which released its final report on the issue in January of this year. Among the recommendations was the formation of a state library-administered ebook lending program. “The most forward-thinking and sustainable option the legislature could pursue to increase e-book availability at public libraries” the report reads, “is to make a significant State-wide investment in the creation of an e-book distribution platform that could be shared by libraries in the State.”
The report’s conclusion backed a proposal already being advocated by the state library, according to Connecticut state librarian Kendall Wiggin. As the project comes together in the next few months, Wiggin is confident that the expertise Connecticut libraries have in sharing resources will serve them well, as will the infrastructure they’ve already developed, like icon.org, a web-based service that already offers Connecticut library users access to hundreds of ebooks and audiobooks and is expected to form the backbone of the expanded state ebook distribution program. After watching how other states, including Colorado and Arizona, have approached similar issues, Wiggin cited keeping development of the resource in-house and not contracting with a third party to create the collection as a top priority. “We’ve been doing this sort of resource sharing for so long, it’s part of our ethos to try it, and we think we’ll be able to pull it off,” said Wiggin.
The library, which Wiggin hopes to see come online within the next 12 months, will not replace local libraries ebook holdings, but supplement them. Connecticut libraries that already host their own ebook collections will be able to offer the new state ebook library as an expanded option, while smaller libraries that may not have the resources to offer ebooks to their patrons can direct them to the new collection with a simple link, minimizing the amount of implementation work needed from individual libraries.
According to Wiggin, it’s too early to say what the state ebook collection will hold. He hopes for something with breadth and depth to appeal to readers of all ages and interests, but says aims like providing access to a full range of best sellers is not a realistic goal for the new service. “We will have what I hope is a pretty robust collection of ebooks and we’ll do our best to have what people want,” he said, adding that the collection development process would be a collaboration, with libraries across the state offering their input. “For some libraries, we’ll be the only ebook collection they have access to, and we have to think about that.
Of course, what that collection looks like also depends on publisher’s willingness to work with the new state ebook collection. Those conversations haven’t begun yet, but Wiggin is hopeful that a licensing agreement that offers ebook access to users across the state while also serving the needs of publishers can be arranged. “We’ve been working on agreements for print books for libraries for years,” Wiggin told LJ. “I don’t see any reason we shouldn’t be able to make similar deals work for ebooks.”