Irish Librarians and library-related organisations call on the Irish Government, publishers and other stakeholders to recognise, and take action against, the electronic content crisis facing libraries and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are deeply concerned about the rising costs and unfair licensing conditions for such content. Building on, and echoing, the recent UK-based campaign to investigate the academic ebook market (CIAEM) and the RL UK content statement we call on the Irish Government, publishers and other stake holders for:
- Significant reductions in annual database, journal subscription and open access costs, not increases or price freezes to recognise the reality of library budgets.
- Increased transparency and sustainability in ebook costs and licensing. In public libraries, the average cost of an ebook is three times the cost of a print book, with far greater restrictions on how it can be used. In academic libraries the situation is even worse – academic ebook costs can often be ten times as much as for the same paper book. Price rises are common, sudden and appear arbitrary. The CIAEM cites examples of well-known publishers increasing costs for a single-user ebook by 200% or more with no warning in 2020.
- A deep discount on ebooks and e-textbooks where their print equivalents have been purchased in recent years. Instead at present ebooks are almost always more expensive, and frequently significantly and prohibitively so.
- Publishers to make all currently available and forthcoming books and textbooks available in accessible electronic format to libraries. At present approximately 20% of titles are available in e-format but this is much lower in certain disciplines. In some cases, a book is available as an ebook to an individual to purchase, but not available to a library to purchase.
- More flexibility in content selection to allow libraries to disaggregate collections.
- Ending ‘exploding licences’ – time-based licences that force books to be deleted from collections after a certain period of time.
- More government support for the creation and use of Open Education Resources (OER) and the associated curation infrastructure to ensure sustainable access.
- Copyright law reform to:
- Remove the requirement for libraries to purchase versions of ebooks licensed specifically for library use which are subject to the aforementioned pricing and licensing obstacles.
- Allow libraries to scan whole books they own in print where ebooks are unavailable or unaffordable for preservation and for controlled access to support research and learning.
The above problems pre-date COVID-19 but the sudden shift to remote working and learning due to the pandemic has underlined the need for change. Access to online content has never been more important yet the capacity of libraries to deliver it is inhibited by a perfect storm of financial pressures, a dysfunctional market and skyrocketing customer demand. The Irish Government has provided welcome resources to alleviate these issues but this level of additional support is not sustainable and would not be necessary if the market was functioning properly.
We call on the Irish Government, publishers and other stakeholders to recognise these challenges and take action. We support the call for an investigation into the publishing industry over its pricing and licensing practices regarding ebooks and electronic content.
28 October 2020