HarperCollins, libraries, and eBooks

Prompt: You may have heard about the HarperCollins Library eBook Controversy. If not, the following provides some background:

There are two steps in this experiment:

  • Step 1: With your posting in this forum, please take a stand, either for or against, on the HarperCollins’ e-book policy. Do not discuss both sides of the views. Whether you pick the argument “for” or “against” the policy, please provide at least three supporting arguments and references.
  • Step 2: Read what the others in the class have posted in the Week 7 Experiment – Step 1 discussion area, revise your original posting, and post a final (real) view with references on your blog. Post a link to your blog in the appropriate discussion forum.  This is due at the end of week 8.

Based on what other people have posted in the class forum, I am pretty happy with my original posting. It seems to gel with my other classmates as they too are against HarperCollins’ eBook policy. The only addition that I would like to add to my original posting has to do with my first point. In it, I left out the situation with OverDrive and Kansas (thank you, Janell!). Below is my original posting with the addition added to the second full paragraph.

In the HarperCollins eBook debate, I am opposed to HarperCollins’s position. My arguments are the following:

  1. With eBooks, libraries do not actually own the books. They are essentially renting them;
  2. A purpose of libraries is to provide a place that preserves the past. With eBooks constantly disappearing from collections that is impossible to do; and
  3. Libraries should not be required to constantly repurchase new copies of eBooks after a set number of uses are reached.

With the current eBook model, libraries do not actually own the content. We are simply licensing, or renting, the content from the eBook publishers, such as HarperCollins. What this means is that at any time the content can be taken away from our collection (Fister, 2011; Schneider, 2011). With print books, once a library purchases a copy of the print book the library owns the copy and may share and resell that copy as they choose. Not so with eBooks, libraries remain at the whim of the publisher and eBook provider to supply the content.

An excellent example of this point is the fight that Kansas State Librarian, Joanne Budler,had to undergo when she wanted to switch eBook vendors. At the beginning she was told that the eBook vendor owned the book content and not the library consortium. After a court battle and also because of the original contract language, she was able to move the majority of the content but only after contacting all publishers for permission. Those that she couldn’t reach had to stay with the previous eBook vendor. As an aside, the previous eBook vendor changed their contract language. In her interview, she sums up the event nicely:

E-content should not be treated any differently than physical content. . . . Ownership should be retained by the purchaser. Transfer from one shelf/platform to another should be based on DRM, i.e. as long as DRM is maintained, it should not matter which shelf/platform holds that content (Budler, 2012, ALA guidelines question).

One of the main purposes of libraries has been to preserve the past and culture of the community they serve (Schneider, 2011). With the current eBook model, libraries can no longer retain copies of eBooks. After the twenty-six uses has been reached the copy is returned to the publisher. To retain a copy of that book, the library must either buy it in print, which limits how the public can access that copy, or purchase a new copy of the eBook. Once again, the library is at the whim of the publisher and eBook provider.

Libraries should not have to constantly repurchase new copies of eBooks simply because a set number of uses has been reached (Fister, 2011; Osnos, 2011; Schneider, 2011). Libraries are meant to share information. Many times the form of information comes as a book. Whether the book is in print or electronic format should not matter. Libraries should not be held back with disseminating information because a set number of uses has been reached. Publishers cannot set a number of uses on print books. The same should apply to eBooks. Libraries should determine when a new copy needs to be purchased, not the publisher or eBook provider.


Budler, J. (2012, January 3). Joanne Budler [Interview]. American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.americanlibrariesmagazine.org/article/joanne-budler

Fister, B. (2011, February 28). A library written in disappearing ink [Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library_babel_fish/a_library_written_in_disappearing_ink

Osnos, P. (2011, March 29). Public libraries take on e-Books. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/03/public-libraries-take-on-e-books/73163/

Schneider, K. G. (2011, February 26). HarperCollins memento plan [Blog]. Retrieved from http://freerangelibrarian.com/2011/02/26/harpercollins-memento-plan/

Categories: CECS 5200 | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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