Lack of eContent in the Toronto Public Library

On Twitter, Toronto Public Library users voice their feelings to publishing companies

A cellphone with the Libby app open, showing wait times for audiobooks
Toronto Public Library user, Megan Smith, showing her wait times for a couple of audiobooks on her phone. Amanda Da Silva/Toronto Observer

There are 2.73 million people living in Toronto and 100 Toronto Public Library branches within the city, yet for classic titles such as Stephen King’s The Shining, there are only six audiobooks in the library’s entire system.

As a result library users in the city have taken to Twitter, posting under the hashtag #eContentForLibraries to raise awareness of about a large deficit in the Toronto Public Library for eBooks and audiobooks. Their goal is to get publishing companies to sell eContent to public libraries for reasonable prices for the benefit of Torontonians.

“I’ve specifically downloaded Libby to access the Toronto Public Library audiobooks and every book that I’m interested in reading has at least a two month long hold for it,” Torontonian Megan Smith, 27, said.

Although eContent is contained as a digital file, it still follows the format of physical books meaning that with each eBook and audiobook, only one person may borrow it at a time.

The Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC) is an organization that works closely with libraries throughout Canada. It created the hashtag #eContentForLibraries to raise awareness about the deficit.

CULC and the Toronto Public Library encourage people to “voice their concerns” to remedy the problem as publishing companies charge high prices for eContent. Their goal is to work with publishers to negotiate fair pricing for public libraries.

“It gets expensive because audiobooks are very popular, they have become extremely popular in recent years and it’s a real struggle for us to be able to keep up with demands,” said Maria Cipriano, a senior collections specialist with the Toronto Public Library. Cipriano is in charge of buying eContent for the Toronto Public Library.

According to Cipriano, the most challenging part of eContent is not only pricing but also titles’ accessibility to libraries: that means when rights to titles are bought by eContent hosts like Audible.

A title like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood has audiobook rights that are purchased by Audible and can only be exclusively distributed by them, making it impossible for the Toronto Public Library to ever carry it.

“The problem is by no means solved, we have many, many audiobooks that are available in the consumer market that we cannot get because sometimes the rights are not negotiated for libraries in Canada,” Cipriano said.

According to Cipriano, within the past year circumstances have improved somewhat as they had a 25 per cent increase in circulation for eContent, but there is still much to be done to collect and make more titles available for Toronto Public Library users.

On the positive side, Cipriano is now working with publishers such as House of Anansi that give her a low flat rate charge, so that any time a user requests an eBook they can access it instantly instead of having a long wait time.

Libraries and the CULC are encouraging the public to keep Tweeting and reaching out to publishers to make eContent titles more accessible.

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Posted: Apr 22 2019 9:30 pm
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