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The Williston Community Library and the North Dakota State Library have joined the American Library Association in denouncing a lending model for e-books announced by MacMillan Publishers, which could potentially cost libraries across the country thousands of dollars in fees.

The new policy does not affect traditional paperback books, but a statement from the American Library Association states that under the new model, libraries may purchase one copy of a new title in e-book format upon release, after which the publisher will not allow additional copies of that title to be sold to libraries for eight weeks following publication.

The ALA said the new lending model is an expansion of an existing MacMillan policy that went into effect in July 2018. At that time, the company issued a four-month embargo on titles from Tor Books, one of the publishers subsidiaries.

In a statement given to the Williston Herald, the State Library says this is the latest in a series of moves by publishers in the last few years to limit access that libraries have to purchasing e-books for patron use.

“In addition to limiting access by libraries to purchase adequate numbers of copies to serve their patrons, many people don’t realize that libraries pay a significantly higher amount for e-materials than the general public does,” State Librarian Mary Soucie said. “We wish that publishers would look at libraries as partners instead of as competition.”

If the policy takes effect on Nov. 1 as intended, it could severely limit the number of new e-books available for patrons, which could affect smaller libraries in communities such as Williston the most. Williston is part of a statewide consortium that shares materials among the 46 libraries it serves. According to Library Director Andrea Placher, this policy would mean that the 46 libraries in the consortium would have to share a single copy of a new e-book release for the first eight weeks.

To put that in perspective, in the last 30 days there have been over 40,000 items checked out from the consortium’s online application, Overdrive. Half of those checkouts were specifically for e-books. Nearly 9,000 people have used the service in the last month, meaning that if the policy were to take effect, that could mean one book per 8,937 people. In Williston alone, the library averages around 1,100 online checkouts per month. In addition, while the initial copy of an e-book would cost $30 for perpetual access, additional copies would be $60 per title with access for two years.

“That means that (the library) is going to be able to afford less than we originally were, because (the publisher) is doubling the price,” Placher told the Williston Herald. “It’s going to affect us in a multitude of ways. This is a frustrating announcement for all libraries and the patrons we serve.”

The State Library, along with the Williston Community Library, are encouraging library patrons to protest the new policy by reaching out to MacMillan Publishing’s CEO John Sargent to encourage a dialogue in the hopes of eliminating this and other policies that could limit access to materials not only by patrons, but the libraries themselves. More information on the policy can be found on the ALA’s website at www.ala.org/news/press-releases.

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