Should public libraries charge for ebooks?

After a thread appeared on one of the mailing lists about ebooks in public libraries, I thought I’d see what people’s view are regarding whether libraries should charge library users for borrowing them.  Here is the result:

Should public libraries charge for ebooks?

Ok, the result is probably unsurprising for many (and of course this was hardly scientific) but was surprising was that 7 people felt that libraries should charge for ebooks.  No reasons were provided in the comments, which is a shame as it would have been interesting to learn why those who voted in favour of charging took that view.

Me?  I think libraries should offer ebooks free of charge as they would do with print books, for a number of reasons:

  • Has the potential to attract those who do not use the library service.
  • When those people start borrowing ebooks from the library, there is the potential to introduce them to other services that the library may offer.
  • Libraries should, as many critics have noted, take the lead on the provision of information, no matter what form it comes in.
  • If libraries do not offer free ebooks, users will just obtain them from elsewhere for free – meaning the service is unlikely to generate much in the way of added income.
  • Ebooks are books and, as such, should be subject to the same rules as for print books.

I’ll be interested to hear what your thoughts are.  Particularly if you are of the belief that public libraries should charge for ebooks.  There must be some good reasons that I am overlooking.

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One thought on “Should public libraries charge for ebooks?

  1. It’s an interesting thought, and it touches obliquely on something we were discussing at break this morning- we don’t currently have eBooks but we are getting them in the near future.
    We currently charge a small fee to reserve a book, but do not charge for AV material since there are hire charges on those. As an eBook is technically available anywhere at any time within our service, we wondered if we should charge the equivalent of a reservation fee to offset the cost of the service- after all, the book itself is still available if the user wants to go and get it themselves. As there will be no returns, there will be no fines either.
    We came to this end as we were discussing DVDs and users who are exempt from charges- this morning, we have issued more DVDs to users who are except from charges that we would issue to paying users in a whole week, and it’s only 11:00…. And you could argue that if such a service is of importance, should we not receive funding from Adult Social Care to support it? Anyway, that’s straying a little from the point.
    The angle one member of staff brought into the discussion was that services like that are not free, it’s just that someone other than the end user in that case pays for it.
    So, as long as eBooks are an alternative format for which the service is at charges for in addition to the “standard” format of a book, we felt there should be charges for use?
    Can we justify the cost of a “loss leader” these days?

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