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Public libraries to lead initiative to ensure public access to digital content

DUBLIN, Ohio, USA, 10 July 2012—The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has awarded a $99,957 grant to OCLC for a new initiative, “The Big Shift: Advancing Public Library Participation in Our Digital Future.” The purpose of the grant is to more fully understand the challenges that U.S. public libraries face in providing e-book content to borrowers, as they ensure that all Americans continue to have access to commercially produced content through their local public libraries, even as formats change.

OCLC will partner with the American Library Association (ALA) and the Public Library Association (PLA) to review the e-book landscape and jointly develop recommendations for managing the e-book environment, in order to ensure adequate public access to these emerging resources.

Research indicates that libraries are at a tipping point in e-content investment, as the percentage of e-book and e-journal collection expenditures continues to steadily outgrow print books and journals each year—and is likely to increase exponentially with the rapid growth in e-book adoption.

  • The number of public libraries that offer e-books has doubled in the past five years—to 76 percent from 38 percent, according to a new ALA report. Thirty-nine percent of libraries also offer e-readers for check-out to their patrons.
  • E-books dominate public library concerns, and are the most popular new initiative of this year, according to an OCLC membership survey.
  • In 2011, public library e-book collections increased a staggering 183 percent, according to Library Journal's EBook Penetration & Use in Public Libraries.
  • From 1999—2009, e-resources as a percentage of total collection expenditures more than doubled, from 5.4 percent to 12 percent, according to IMLS.


"Now is the time to work together so that the rise of e-books does not result in a society where content is actually less accessible than it was in the era of print," said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth. "As a society, we depend on the free flow of information and ideas to strengthen our economy and our democracy. I am confident that we will find new strategies that embrace exciting new digital innovations and continue to deliver essential library services."

"Our members tell us that the primary concern in public libraries today is keeping communities connected to information and communication technologies, and to content as it shifts to digital formats," said Cathy De Rosa, Global Vice President of Marketing for OCLC. "We appreciate continued IMLS investment in research and support for public libraries as they work to ensure equal access for all."

This award builds on an IMLS-supported public library discussion hosted by Martin Gómez at the Los Angeles Public Library in November 2011. Grant activities will include:

  • Investigating the nature and extent of challenges public libraries are facing in this area, and identifying possible solutions
  • A convening of public library leaders and others to set specific strategies to ensure public access to digital content
  • Reporting on strategies that all public libraries can use to advance their own work in local communities.

Gómez (University of Southern California), Patrick Losinski (Columbus Metropolitan Library), Brian Bannon (Chicago Public Library), and Vailey Oehlke (Multnomah County Library) will provide guidance on the program's activities, which will be closely coordinated with the ALA's Digital Content & Libraries Working Group, co-chaired by Sari Feldman (Cuyahoga County Public Library) and Robert Wolven (Columbia University).

"ALA looks forward to the opportunity to share the knowledge that we gained in the past year with this new e-book effort," said ALA President Maureen Sullivan. "We also expect this effort to provide valuable research to strengthen ALA's advocacy to enable libraries to obtain e-books under reasonable terms."

PLA involvement in this effort provides the opportunity to solicit input from thousands of public librarians across the nation. "Our librarians are on the front lines of the e-book revolution and we must provide them as many tools as possible to successfully navigate this terrain," said PLA Board Member Vailey Oehlke. "We look forward to the new insights developed from this project that we will leverage in PLA advocacy."

About IMLS

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. Through grant making, policy development, and research, we help communities and individuals thrive through broad public access to knowledge, cultural heritage, and lifelong learning. To learn more about IMLS, please visit www.imls.gov.

About the ALA and PLA

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with approximately 60,000 members in academic, public, school, government, and special libraries. The mission of the American Library Association is to provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all. For further information, visit www.ala.org.

The Public Library Association, with more than 11,000 members, is one of the fastest growing divisions of the ALA. Founded in 1944, PLA is a member-driven organization that exists to provide a diverse program of communication, publication, advocacy, continuing education, and programming for its members and others interested in the advancement of public library service. For further information, visit www.pla.org.

About OCLC

Founded in 1967, OCLC is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world's information and reducing library costs. More than 72,000 libraries in 170 countries have used OCLC services to locate, acquire, catalog, lend, preserve and manage library materials. Researchers, students, faculty, scholars, professional librarians and other information seekers use OCLC services to obtain bibliographic, abstract and full-text information when and where they need it. OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, the world's largest online database for discovery of library resources. Search WorldCat on the Web at www.worldcat.org. For more information, visit www.oclc.org.

OCLC, WorldCat and WorldCat.org are trademarks/service marks of OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Third-party product, service and business names are trademarks/service marks of their respective owners.

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