Local View Column: Denounce policy that means long waits for popular library e-books

The main branch of the Duluth Public Library in downtown Duluth as seen Friday May 17, 2019. (File / News Tribune)
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Imagine it’s February and you are at the airport ready to hop a flight to a sunny beach somewhere. You get to the gate and the ticket-taker tells you, “I’m sorry, we’ve just changed our policy. Instead of one flight carrying everyone, we’ve decided to fly each person individually. It may be a while before your flight. You’re number 254, and there are 253 flights ahead of you. Did I mention we only have one plane for all of you? It might be months before you fly. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

It sounds like ridiculously bad service, right? If you are an e-book reader who uses the library, you may want to brace yourself for a similar scenario now that it’s November.

Library users who rely on access to e-books as a ready source of reading material now face long wait times for many items. One of the largest publishers in the U.S., Macmillan, has revamped its pricing structure to libraries, effectively crippling our ability to meet patron needs.

Under the new pricing model, each library system is allowed to purchase only one copy of any new, popular title in e-book format. This is followed by an eight-week embargo on any additional copies of that title to each library system — regardless of the number of libraries in the system or the number of people served. This is despite library systems being willing to purchase more copies.

This is a significant change for the Duluth Public Library, which is part of the Arrowhead Library System. The change means we will have a single copy of new popular Macmillan titles shared by the 27 libraries in the system. This means incredibly long wait times for popular Macmillan authors like Nora Roberts, Marissa Meyer and Rainbow Rowell.


How long will you have to wait? Well, there were more than 27,000 e-book checkouts in the last 30 days from the Arrowhead Library System. You could be waiting a long time.

As a seasoned public librarian, I support systems across the U.S. in their denouncement of Macmillan’s policy. It hurts our communities by making it harder for us to meet community needs in a reasonable manner.

Patrons who are financially disenfranchised and people who are disabled will be most affected. The former rely on the library for purchase of these materials; the latter rely on materials for a device (e-reader) that allows them to read at all.

The American Library Association has launched the petition, #ebooksforall, which I encourage people to sign at

Steph Myers is supervisor of adult and technical services at the Duluth Public Library.

Related Topics: BOOKS
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