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Libraries, publishers not on same page

Varying business models cause strife in brave new world of ebooks.

June 03, 2012|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com
  • Pasadena Central Library pages Carolina Feliciano and Jessica Flores put books and DVD's away.
Pasadena Central Library pages Carolina Feliciano and… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

The rise of the ebook at public libraries has fueled a spat with publishers over costs and limits on the number of times a title can be checked out, keeping major catalogs out of reach for patrons in Glendale and Pasadena.

Last year, HarperCollins imposed a rule for its titles that limit the number of times they can be checked out to 26. After that, the books “expire” and libraries must re-purchase the title to keep them in circulation.

Some librarians disputed the circulation limit as too low, prompting some — including Glendale and Pasadena — to forsake HarperCollins altogether because of the cost implications.

“We as a system have decided not to buy HarperCollins at this point because of that [circulation] limitation,” Glendale Public Library Director Cindy Cleary said.

For example, Catherine Hany, communications director for the Pasadena Public Library, said in an email that her system still circulates books published between the 1960s and 1990s. Some have endured more than 100 checkouts, but remain “in circulating condition and relevant to our collection,” she said.

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“We have kept them for as long as we have because they are the first in a fiction series or the early novels of continually popular writers,” Hany said.

And in an age of tight budgets, being forced to re-buy titles at a faster clip — especially as the popularity of e-books grows — could have significant impacts to library resources, officials said.

But publishers argue that, as a business, they depend on repurchasing — hence the need to impose a cap on electronic copies that theoretically would never experience wear and tear.

And since HarperCollins imposed the limit, said Vice President of Sales Josh Marwell, many librarians have come around.

He noted that HarperCollins now works with three times as many libraries as it did in 2011.

“We think it's certainly become more accepted by librarians,” Marwell said.

In April alone, 18 libraries purchased e-books from the publisher for the first time, he added.

“We're sticking with the model,” Marwell said. “We think that this is a model that is working better and better every day.”

In Burbank, libraries director Sharon Cohen said her department has decided to purchase HarperCollins e-books despite a circulation limit she thinks is too low.

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