The sad truth about the cost of library ebooks

Ebooks have been a lifeline during the various stages of lockdown, quarantine and social distancing. Even those who prefer print books have found that ebooks offer a safer and more convenient alternative – and, in cases where bookstores and libraries have been shut down or limited, ebooks may indeed be the only option available to them.

Many local libraries have had to temporarily close, limit hours and get creative with ways to continue to serve their patrons (hello, curbside service!).Because of these changes, a lot of people have discovered their library’s ebook collections for the first time. They have also discovered borrowing ebooks means limited selections of titles, limited numbers of copies, and long waits for new and popular titles. It can also be difficult to access the format you want, especially if you have a preference for either ebooks or audiobooks. And depending on what services your library offers, you may not be able to access the book you want on the device you prefer to read or listen on.

If you are new to digital lending models, one of the first things you will probably think is that none of it makes any sense. These are digital copies, right? Then why are they limited to one copy at at time? Why is the library telling me that they can’t afford to buy more of the books that everybody seems to want to read?

If you want to understand some of the economics behind library purchasing and lending, I highly recommend this piece by a collection development librarian called Hold On, eBooks Cost HOW Much? The Inconvenient Truth About Library eCollections.The piece does a great job of laying out the information and costs associated with library ebooks, including some great charts that clearly show the problem in context. Included is a list of things you can do to help support public library ebook lending.It’s something to keep in mind as you borrow your next read.


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