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Libraries Grapple with Soaring E-book Costs, Advocacy for Legislative Change Grows

The rising costs and restrictions on e-books and audiobooks have ignited a debate within public libraries, prompting calls for legislative intervention. West Haven Library in Connecticut and others face challenges as the pricing model for digital copies often exceeds that of physical books. While a hardcover copy of a bestselling author’s novel costs $18, leasing a digital copy can reach $55, with expiration after a limited time or checkouts.

Librarians and lawmakers in states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, Hawaii, and New Hampshire are pushing for legislation to address the affordability gap and restrictions on electronic materials. The bills aim to redefine library contracts with publishers, ensuring reasonable terms and eliminating provisions that limit libraries’ autonomy in determining loan periods for e-material.

The publishing industry strongly opposes such legislation, arguing that it undermines intellectual property values and the publishing ecosystem. The Association of American Publishers emphasizes the increased accessibility of e-material and warns against damaging the rights of creators. Last year, global borrowing of e-books, audiobooks, and digital magazines surged by 19%, illustrating the growing popularity of digital content in libraries.

Libraries, grappling with budgets strained by the high costs of e-materials, are seeking a balance between affordability and the need to provide diverse content for patrons. Legislative proposals represent an attempt to navigate this complex landscape and ensure that libraries can effectively build and maintain their digital collections without compromising financial sustainability.

As the debate continues, patrons like Casey Rosseau, who relies on audiobooks due to worsening eyesight, highlight the crucial role libraries play in providing access to diverse content. The evolving legislative landscape aims to address the challenges faced by libraries and create a fairer, more sustainable system for accessing digital materials.

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