2018 ALA-ASGCLA National E-book Summit

On June 22, 2018, the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association for Specialized, Government and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASGCLA) co-sponsored the National E-book Summit at the 2018 ALA Annual Conference. The Summit was meant to continue the work of the ALA Working Group on Libraries and Digital Content to further the conversation between librarians, consortia, publishers, distributors and other thought leaders around e-books and libraries and to begin to create a national agenda around e-books in libraries. Attendees represented various stakeholders. The work of the day included panel presentations and discussions and break-out sessions to address the broad themes selected by the Summit conveners and their advisory committee. The final report of the Summit was released on January 22, 2019, and this article is based on both my notes and the published report.

James “Jim” Neal, former president of ALA and University Librarian Emeritus at Columbia University and a champion of this work through the formation of the Digital Content Working Group, delivered the opening remarks. Jim set the tone for the day’s work by “planting some seeds”:

  • We need to rethink e-book business models and contractual agreements to enable solutions libraries can afford.
  • We need to focus on a suite of issues — accessibility, privacy & copyright — arenas within which we need to process change.
  • We need to embrace a strategy for long-term preservation of e-books.
  • We need to improve the reader experience.
  • We need to identify where standards are needed, particularly technical standards.
  • We need to deal with metaissuse — privacy loss, security meltdowns, continuity of access.
  • We need to support network neutrality — no discrimination against users based on where they are or who they are.

Jim’s comments set the tone for the day and outlined the issues to be addressed by the break-out groups.

The Summit’s stated goals were to:

  • Create a national agenda for e-books
  • Create synergy among people, organizations and initiatives in the e-book marketplace
  • Build consensus on e-book strategy and principles
  • Establish a working platform for constructive and meaningful dialogue, strategy development and progress

To achieve these goals, the day was organized around five themes: licensing models, impacts and benchmarks, accessibility, curation and content “deserts.” The attendees broke into groups to discuss themes and identify possible agenda items for future work.

Discussions of licensing models focused on “having more flexibility to choose from among different models in order to meet different usage and circulation patterns.” This group identified two areas of focus: collaborating with industry partners on the adoption of the current ONIX 3.0 standards to accommodate multiple licensing models per item, and supporting results-oriented dialogue between publishers and libraries in order to achieve licensing models that best meet the needs of both sides.

Impacts and benchmarks discussions centered on accurately portraying the current impact of e-books and setting future standards and benchmarks for sales and usage statistics. This group outlined three areas for future work: library and industry leaders meeting to develop and publish a study of e-book usage connected to existing research efforts; educating libraries, publishers, distributors and authors on the impact of e-books distributed via libraries; and developing core training on data and data analysis for library workers.

Accessibility discussions centered on ensuring that e-books and e-book platforms meet accessibility guidelines for the various constituencies needing remediation to effectively use e-books. The areas this group identified for work include: promoting awareness of and compliance with EPUB accessibility standards; performing accessibility testing on major consumer and library e-book platforms; developing model license language to support accessibility and encourage adoption of the Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT); and developing training for librarians on accessibility issues related to e-book use and delivery.

Curation discussions addressed issues around providing libraries with better ability to curate materials and improve discovery. They developed seven recommendations around standards development to support curation and end-user discovery, as well as interoperability of e-books systems, and the creation of talking points on the importance of standards. Another area of focus was in evaluating gaps in metadata that hinder curation and discovery and making recommendations for improvements. Finally they recommended supporting the development and expansion of SimplyE, an e-book reader app created by a partnership of libraries and library consortia across the country, with the New York Public Library currently serving as lead partner. Further, they advocated for increased interoperability by proprietary e-book platforms with SimplyE.

Content “deserts” addressed issues of obtaining desired but unavailable or difficult to find content, such as backlists, non-English language and out-of-print materials. Their four recommendations include studying user demand for e-books in these areas; developing a coordinated approach to expand access; ensuring that content made available is discoverable via SimplyE; and adding OpenLibrary content to SimplyE.

The ASGCLA Consortial E-books Interest Group will continue to coordinate this work, identifying and involving appropriate partners and promoting the identified issues as part of a national agenda for e-books. There are a variety of ways to get involved with this effort. The ASGCLA Consortial E-books Interest Group meets on Fridays at ALA Annual and Midwinter, and they maintain an email discussion list to facilitate following their work. All are welcome. There are e-book meetings at DPLAfest, and interested parties can reach out to other organizations that are involved such as ReadersFirst, the Book Industry Standards Group (BISG), Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), the DAISY Consortium, Inclusive Publishing, NISO and the SimplyE governance group.

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