Report from a Representative at the IFLA Access to Digital Content Meeting

Please find attached a short report prepared by Christina deCastell. Christina is on the CULC/CBUC eBook Task Force and maintains the blog linked to CULC on the same topic. Paul Whitney was also there as a Representative of IFLA, as was Victoria Owen from Canada.

Summary of IFLA Access to Digital Content Expert Meeting

November 26-27, 2012, The Hague, The Netherlands

The purpose of this meeting was to increase IFLA’s understanding of the issues facing libraries and contribute to shaping IFLA’s direction on digital content. Participants included representatives of library organizations from many countries and key thinkers from the publishing community, listed below. Christina de Castell, Director, Resources & Technology, Vancouver Public Library, attended on behalf of the CULC eBook Task Force.

Over two days, library participants shared experiences working with publishers on eBook lending and discussed the key issues that face libraries. A “thinkpiece,” prepared by Dan Mount of Civic Agenda, framed the discussion with Michael Gorman’s eight principles of librarianship: stewardship, service, intellectual freedom, privacy, rationalism, commitment to literacy and lifelong learning, equity of access and democracy. Participants identified stewardship, privacy and equity of access as issues that required immediate attention in the current eBook environment.

Equity of Access

Library participants agreed that lack of availability and variations across devices risk a future where access to content is denied those without the right device. Negotiations with large publishers have been challenging for all, and several countries have seen publishers withdraw from eBook sales to libraries or fail to offer eBooks for sale to libraries from the outset. Most countries have found that discussions with smaller and independent publishing companies have been more successful. The greatest challenge has been multinational publishers, and participants identified this as a potential role for IFLA.

Publishing industry participants identified additional risk areas associated with eBooks, including future content developed as device dependent applications. In a digital environment, participants suggested that libraries can no longer expect to have the option to buy the same content as consumers, and that a digital divide is inevitable. Another publishing industry participant identified the relevance of the library market as an opportunity to combat piracy and address consumers who are unwilling or unable to pay for content.


Library participants agreed that the freedom to access whatever an individual wishes without the knowledge or interference of others was critical to libraries. In the context of eBooks, participants identified risks to this principle when publishers and vendors track use of materials by borrowers.

From the Canadian experience with eBooks, we identified that while libraries may theoretically be able to ensure private access to content within library buildings or on library equipment, in the new environment libraries do not control the reading device, so cannot ensure that the patron’s choices are not tracked via wireless connections to the vendor. Experience with recent discovery layers with social features has taught many Canadian libraries to place the choice to disclose and share information in the hands of patrons, and to provide education and tools to better educate patrons about the implications of their choices.

Most libraries outside North America continue to enforce privacy and are not yet dealing with issues around providing users the option to share information. Connected reading devices and social discovery layers are new to the marketplace in many countries, or have not yet arrived.


As in the Canadian context, the requirement for ownership of eBooks by libraries varied among participants. Many considered stewardship to be shared responsibility that fell to national or academic libraries and was less important for public libraries. Others argued that if a library did not own content, it could not guarantee access through preservation or transferring content between formats.

From a Canadian perspective, we shared the role of urban public libraries in preserving local and regional content, and the trends towards content creation in libraries. US participants shared in recognizing these roles for their institutions, and others saw that they were distinct considerations.

Following the discussion, participants agreed that it was important to define the specific rights associated with stewardship and ownership, as the concepts can be broadly defined. Key rights that many libraries seek include the right to preserve the format, provide accessible versions, and transfer it between repositories.

Characteristics of Access Models for Digital Content

Discussion continued by examining a set of suggested characteristics for access models, including:

  • Negotiable access to all digital content: that price determines the decision to buy rather than embargo periods or the publishers’ choice to sell.
  • Libraries determine their own acquisitions policy: libraries choose whether to emphasize multiple copies of bestsellers, depth of certain subject areas, academic content, etc.
  • Ownership and enduring rights at a fair price: specific rights required must be defined and should be available to libraries as options.
  • Licenses and terms of access should not override exceptions and limitations to copyright: that licenses and contracts should not be permitted to override rights granted through legislation.
  • Standardized, flexible, affordable, dependable licenses: that with certain terms included, such as the right to offer affordable short-term access and accessible formats, license models could be beneficial to libraries.
  • E-lending model upholds the privacy of patrons: that the library is the custodian of the transaction, the search experience integrates all library materials, and the data that is gathered is anonymized. This does not exclude the option for patrons to choose to transfer to commercial environments to search or buy.

We shared the activities of the CULC eBook Task Force and characteristics of the Canadian pilot project. Participants saw the Canadian project as a positive example of the potential when libraries and publishers are able to build trust, and look forward to hearing more as the project continues.


Margaret Allen (State Library of Western Australia), Vincent Bonnet (EBLIDA), Peter Brantley (Internet Archive), Tim Coates (Bilbary), Mark Coker (Smashwords), Christina de Castell (CULC eBook Task Force), Stuart Hamilton (IFLA), Herve Le Crosnier (University of Caen), Niva Elkin-Koren (Haifa University), Sarah Kaddu (National Library of Uganda), Gerald Leitner (Chair IFLA Management of Library Associations), Barbara Lison (IFLA/Bremen Public Libraries), Pat Losinkski (Columbus Met/Readers First), Christine McKenzie (IFLA/Yarra Plenty Public Library), Mary Minow (Library Law), Dan Mount (Civic Agenda), Brian O’Leary (Magellan Media), Victoria Owen (Chair IFLA Copyright & other Legal Matters), Mikkel Christofferson (Danish Ministry of Culture), Niclas Lindberg (Swedish Library Association), Carrie Russell (ALA Digital Content & Libraries Working Group), Paul Sturges (Loughborough University), Paul Whitney (IFLA)

An interesting article by Peter Brantly: You Have Two, Maybe Three Years…. Publisher’s Weekly from the Internet Archive.

⚠️ Safety is a top priority for Canadian public libraries. The CULC/CBUC Safety and Security Toolkit provides a menu of options to help manage and respond to security incidents more effectively. Visit to enhance your library's safety plan! 📚

Just released — OVERDUE: The Case for Canada’s Public Libraries is the product of three years of CUI’s engagement with Canada’s urban public libraries alongside @culc_cbuc.
Read the report at:

Load More...