The Douglas County Libraries in Colorado, an innovator in developing its own e-book lending platform, announced last week that they will nearly double the number of e-books available to patrons via a roughly $40,0000 deal to acquire 10,000 e-book titles from independent and self-publishing service provider Smashwords. In all, the deal brings the total of e-books owned by DCL to 21,000, but perhaps most importantly, might the agreement point the way toward a smoother e-book future for libraries and publishers?

“The deal was culminated through the legal equivalent of a sketch on a cocktail napkin, not a 330 page contract with multiple addenda,” blogged PW contributing editor Peter Brantley, who also reported that additional large library consortia, such as California’s Califa, are expected to follow DCL’s suit.

“The most promising aspect of the deal, and one that I hope will set a precedent, is that it was concluded through Smashwords’ acceptance of a simple document [pdf], “Statement of Common Understanding for Purchasing Electronic Content.” The keystone clause of that document, Brantley writes, is the library’s simple but effective affirmation that it will comply with U.S. Copyright Law. “This is a model for a straightforward and civil agreement between publishers and libraries that rests solidly on current copyright, without the need for confining and restrictive licensing agreements that add complexity, increase user frustration, and diminish access without providing significant additional protection for rightsholders.”

“Smashwords is an enthusiastic supporter of public libraries, and we’re proud to be working with the visionary team at Douglas County Libraries,” said Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. “Public libraries are engines of book discovery, and library patrons purchase a lot of books. At a time when many e-book publishers are turning their backs on libraries, our authors and publishers are embracing libraries.”

DCL purchases e-books directly from publishers, rather than leasing them through third-party vendors. “We’re eager to connect our readers to fresh streams of digital content,” said Jamie LaRue, director of Douglas County Libraries. “Smashwords's average price per title [about $4] allows us to do that more readily than we could from the big publishers [now charging as much as $84 per e-book]. This looks like the beginning of a wonderful friendship.”