Leaders in the library community are expressing disappointment over New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s veto of a New York state bill designed to ensure public libraries equitable access to e-books and digital content. But what comes next still remains unclear.
“Governor Hochul’s decision to veto S2890B/A5837B is unfortunate and disappointing,” said ALA president Patty Wong in a January 3 statement, adding that "the governor’s claim that federal law ties the hands of state lawmakers is incorrect in response to publishers' unreasonable attempts to discriminate against public libraries."
The New York bill (S2890B in the Senate and A5837B in the Assembly) would have required “publishers who offer to license e-books to the public” to also offer to license those e-books to libraries on “reasonable” terms. The bill’s summary states the law is designed to ensure that “widely accepted and effective industry practices remain in place while prohibiting harmful practices that discriminate against libraries and harm library patrons.”
Hochul, however, vetoed the bill on December 29, 2021 just before it was set to take effect, following a federal lawsuit filed by the Association of American Publishers over a similar state bill in Maryland, as well as a lobbying effort against the bill from an array of powerful industry associations. The bill is back with the legislature, where it is now tabled.
Library advocates in New York say they are now discussing next steps with the bill’s sponsors. While the measure has strong grassroots support and passed with veto-proof bipartisan margins—the bill unanimously passed the New York Assembly 148-0, and passed the New York State Senate 62-1—veto override efforts in the state are rare. And in exercising her veto, Hochul said the bill’s goal is “laudable,” suggesting there is room to reshape a bill that could win her approval.
The library e-book bills come after a decade of tension in the library e-book market, with librarians long complaining of unsustainable, non-negotiable prices and restrictions on digital licenses. Specifically, the bills emerged as a response to Macmillan’s controversial (and since abandoned) 2019 embargo on frontlist e-books in libraries, which led library advocates to take their concerns to state and federal legislators. Despite the veto, library advocates told PW their efforts will continue.
“ALA will continue active engagement toward more reasonable access to digital books for libraries. While direct negotiation with the industry–with whom most of the decision-making and authority on library digital book pricing and access rests–is preferred, ALA will also work at the state and federal levels to extend some of the rights that libraries have in the print world to the digital environment,” Wong said. “Library groups, library advocates, and friends of libraries will not cease our efforts to ensure fair pricing for libraries despite this disappointing outcome.”
Meanwhile, a hearing has been set for February 7 in the AAP's bid to nullify Maryland's library e-book law, which went into effect on January 1. Similar measures are advancing in other states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island.